Fluorescent Light Bulbs and UV Exposure


You might be getting some UV exposure long after the sun goes down — some new fluorescent light bulbs give off UV light.

Fluorescent light bulbs are everywhere now that people are trying to be more green. Most popular are the ice-cream-twist compact fluorescent bulbs called CFBs. CFBs create light by energizing a gas and exciting a phosphorous coating on their glass. The coating prevents most of the ultraviolet light from reaching you, but not entirely; some UV radiation leaks out of any fluorescent bulb. In some CFBs, the emission of UV light is so high that it exceeds the safety limits of the International Commission of Non-Iodizing Radiation.

So, should you be applying sunscreen before turning on your CFB reading light at night? No. Nor should you switch your CFBs back to energy wasting incandescent bulbs. The amount of UV exposure that you get from the light bulb is small compared to the UV exposure you get from just being outside; for most people it is not significant.

However, some people are exquisitely sensitive to ultraviolet light. Auto immune diseases such as lupus, inflammatory disease such as rosacea, and certain drugs such as HCTZ can be triggered by even small amounts of UV light from CFBs.

If you are particularly sensitive to UV, then select CFBs that have a double envelope instead of single, as it will block most of the UV light. And always stay at least one foot away when using fluorescent bulbs of any sort.

Also, remember to sit back from your TV (which my mother taught me to do when I was a kid). Of course, now with HDTVs, you get the best picture when you’re sitting a distance of 3 times the diameter of your TV. If you just bought a 60 inch HDTV, you might need to be in your neighbor’s living room to watch it. This, fortunately, should be safely away from any radiation.

Photo: Steven Fernandez (flickr)

22 thoughts on “Fluorescent Light Bulbs and UV Exposure”

  1. Personally I think fluorescent bulbs give off horrible light and give me headaches. I will never give up my old-fashioned light bulbs.

  2. I agree with Kevin, there’s just something weird about fluorescent bulbs, they do not feel quite right to me πŸ˜‰

    Just found your blog, and all I can say is that you’ll be seeing more of me!


  3. Actually you SHOULD switch back to the energy wasters because in the long term those ones are BETTER for the environment! The “energy efficient” ones are long term BAD for the environment. If you break one you have to evacuate your home. What’s inside is hazardous waste.

    Just recently over in England every single worker at a factory that had replaced all their bulbs with the “safer” ones all ended up getting mercury poisoning – FROM THE BULBS!

    Trust me, the old fashion energy wasters are WAY “greener” then these curly lightbulbs of death!

  4. Environmentalists have lied to us over and over again.

    When will we stop listening?

  5. They make new fluorescent bulbs that give off a more incandescent look.

  6. I agree with Kevin.Fluorescent Light bulbs are more efficient, where as it consumes more power.It is a strain reading under the fluorescent light bulbs, So it is better to choose Normal bulbs which we are currently using.Thanks for sharing this information.

  7. I use the curlies for the bedroom cuz the ceiling is 9 feet up and I don’t have a ladder. I’d rather deal with them than deal with a cracked open brain…but then the lamp shade is a half inch thick and frosted, take that UV! I get a very old fashioned yellow light. Another trick is sticking a curly bulb inside a Chinese cloth globe lamp. You can choose what kind of light you want. I do save $$ because I need to run the lights, very little natural light reaches my bedroom.

  8. I’m thrilled to see so much discussion about energy efficiency, whatever the opinion. As an energy-efficient lighting vendor I’ve found the best method of increasing awareness is simply informing my consumers about the latest products. The fact is that when they purchase energy efficient CFL or LED light bulbs they do see the savings on their energy bills. There is a lot of discussion about government mandates and whatnot; while this does benefit my business, I think simply selling the newer bulbs on their own merit is the best way to go.

  9. End the fluorescent headaches out there. My girl friend had that problem for years. Turns out switching to LED tube lights did the trick in her office. She told he boss and within 3 months they made the switch. The crazy thing is they cut their lighting electric bill in half too. I didn’t know it at the time but they now offer LED in the U-Shape bulbs that bend around. They call them U-Tube LED bulbs. I guess anywhere can use them now.

  10. what about fluorescent light?

  11. How about led bulbs and tubes?Although expensive LED bulbs can produce light that is comparable to incandescent.

    LED (Light Emitting Diode) last longer that compact fluorescents, they use less energy than traditional bulbs and potentially, compact fluorescents. LED lights are made in all sizes and shapes. LEDs do not contain mercury so their disposal is not a problem.

    An article in the New York Times quotes Charles F. Jerabek, the president and chief executive of Osram Sylvania, a unit of Siemans as stating β€œIn the US 78 percent of the public is completely unaware that traditional light bulbs will be phased out in 2012.”

  12. Amanda makes good points about LED lights–they don’t flicker or hum and they don’t contain the chemicals associated with fluorescent lights. However, Jami is also right. Inexpensive LEDs will be put in a landfill more often than incandescents (not exactly a “green” solution)-and other LEDs don’t produce that much light (why bother replacing your lights only to work in the dark-that’s stupid environmental technology). Even worse, there are expensive LEDs out there that change color temperatures, which can be as bad a flickering for headaches.
    Xander is right–eventually switching to LEDs will be the smart move, but there are a lot of impostor companies selling today. I help consult businesses about smart LED lighting. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line anytime at andrew@cumminggroup.com

  13. fKen Leverenz says:

    If you have trouble reading by flourescent, just put the incandescent
    bulb where you usually read. The rest of your house can have the curly
    bulbs. 80% of our house is curly bulbs saving at least 50% on our
    electrice bill.

  14. Apparently there are now these decorative panels that you place in the fluorescent lights, and it acts as a filter from that harsh lighting. i think it’s called something like Sky Panels. a lot of doctors and dentists use them because its easier on their patients eyes.

  15. Emission levels of UV radiation does vary between brands of CFLs. I’m now thinking of getting one of those personal UV monitors as a way to check but I need to find out which band(s) they test. LED lighting is improving and becoming more affordable but it’s still quite pricey to replace halogen MR16/GU10 spotlights. I don’t use a single incandescent light bulb any more…well ok, I have one in one of my flashlights! My parents are somewhat wary of fluoros as they still associate them with the old flickering magnetic ballasted tubes (they definitely caused headaches in some people). You need to shop around for decent brands and pick the right temperature (colour) CFL for the location eg. daylight for the dining area and warm white for the lounge/TV area. Also you should select a CFL with a higher wattage than what the packaging states is the equivalent incandescent as they overstate the CFL’s equivalency, plus CFLs lose brightness over the years.

  16. light bulbs these days are getting replaced by compact fluorescents and LED based ones, original incandescent bulbs are power h `

  17. light bulbs are good for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they generate so much heat “;`

  18. Flourescent lights have affected my health in a very negivite way. After my last child was born I developed Lupus and started Meciation but my condition was not under control even with all the different treatments. After a few years, my Dr realize I havehad too much exposure to Flourescent light that made me break out in a rash. She noticed one day while she was delayed and I waited in her exam room with flourescent bulbs. Everyday I sat waiting with the baby waiting for my daughter to take lessons or playgroup, sometimes a few hours a day. The community building we were in had double rows of lights. When I was aware and started sitting in my car rather than the building things got better. Now our newly built community building is a new high energy building with CFL’s. Looks like it is indirect lighting and I would be ok but, don’t let that fool you. I now break out and get sick in as little as 30 mins. Wish there is a way we can test public buildings. I say, go for the old fashioned bulbs. Flourescents are bad for many people and our enviroment. And, it isn’t going to get any better.

  19. At first, I really thought that fluorescent light bulbs are safe. But now that I have read your blog, I had some ideas that it’s still not that safe. Radiation can bring a lot of danger to people. We should all be aware of this.

  20. I disagree with Jami and the rest that beleave that flurecent are very hazardious when you reak one. The mercury inside are very minute and the flurecent gas isn’t that harmful to you. you don’t have to evacuate your home if you break one. you just clean it up with tape so you don’t spead the phosphorous dust in the air and whipe with a damp towel after big pieces are picked up.

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