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Energy-Saving Lamps & Health

5. Can fluorescent lamps affect people with skin conditions?

    Lamps used close to the skin could cause problems for people who
                                are extremely light-sensitive
    Lamps used close to the skin could cause problems for people who are extremely light-sensitive
    Source: Simon Cataudo

    Fluorescent light could be a risk factor for several skin conditions that are brought on or aggravated by exposure to light.

    a) Idiopathic photodermatoses

    These are skin conditions (dermatoses) triggered by light (photo) that have no known cause (idiopathic). However, they are believed to involve the immune system, and include:

    • Polymorphic Light Eruption: a condition causing itchy rashes on skin exposed to sunlight. It is worse in the summer and more common in countries far away from the Equator and at high altitudes.
    • Chronic Actinic Dermatitis: a condition making the skin abnormally sensitive to UVA/UVB and, often, to visible radiation as well. Skin reactions are similar to those of contact allergy.
    • Actinic Prurigo: an uncommon condition causing itchy skin eruptions that particularly affects American Indians and less frequently Caucasian and Asian populations; and women more than men.
    • Solar Urticaria: an uncommon skin disorder mainly caused by exposure to UVA, although sometimes also by UVB and visible radiation. Symptoms are itchy, swollen, red areas on the skin.

    The most severe cases of these diseases may potentially be at risk from CFLs.

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    b) Drug-induced photosensitivity

    Many drugs cause skin problems and allergic reaction when taken in combination with exposure to sunlight, and light in general. The reactions depend on the drug and include burning, prickling sensations, itching, blistering and reddening of the skin. CFLs are unlikely to be a problem because in many cases only UVA triggers the symptoms and large amounts of drug are needed to produce any effect.

    • Two drugs (Photofrin and Foscan) used to treat cancers can cause skin reactions in patients exposed to visible light. However, this side-effect is well-known and patients are closely managed. Therefore, in practice, CFLs are unlikely to constitute a significant problem.
    • Psoralen, a natural substance present in several plants and foodstuffs (in celery, parsnip, limes), can cause skin inflammation if UVA exposure follows skin contact. Given the small amounts of psoralen in the diet, CFLs are unlikely to cause any problems.
    • Some creams, such as sunscreen, used together with exposure to small doses of UVA can cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. However, CFLs are unlikely to cause any reactions.

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    c) Genophotodermatoses

    These are hereditary (“geno”, relating to genes) skin diseases (dermatoses) triggered by light (photo). Although they are quite rare and not well understood, patients are advised to avoid unfiltered fluorescent light, including single-envelope CFLs. More ...

    d) Porphyrias

    This group of rare skin diseases are caused by the accumulation of a type of pigment sensitive to light (porphyrin) within the skin and by a mixture of inherited and environmental factors. Extremely sensitive patients could possibly be at a slightly higher risk from CFLs compared to incandescent sources. More ...

    e) Eczema

    Sunlight seems to worsen a form of eczema (atopic eczema) in about one in ten patients. It seems unlikely that CFLs would contribute significantly to this problem and might even be preferred to incandescent light sources. More ...

    f) Lupus erythematosus

    Ultraviolet radiation aggravates this condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease. Therefore, long-term exposure to CFLs could be a problem for patients. More ...

    g) Skin cancers

    Ultraviolet radiation is a major environmental risk factor for skin cancer, but the use of CFLs does not contribute significantly to the risk of developing it. Nevertheless, the design of CFLs has to respect the current restrictions for room lighting in terms of the amount of ultraviolet radiation that they emit, particularly in the UVC range. More ...


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