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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.