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)

UV Light for Acrylic Nails Might Cause Skin Cancer


“It’s like a mini tanning bed for your fingers. ”

Artifical nails are a $6.3 billion dollar industry. There are nearly 60,000 nail salons in the US — 5 times as many Starbucks! Many of these nail salons use UV light, which might increase the risk of skin cancer on your fingers.

Researchers from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas noticed that some of their patients with skin cancer on their fingers (an uncommon place to get skin cancer) reported having had UV light for artificial nails. Such UV light has been shown to damage cells’ DNA (the genetic code in all cells) and to cause mutations that lead to skin cancer.

There are several types of nails. The most popular is acrylic, a two part process where a liquid monomer is combined with a powder polymer. It hardens in seconds, but takes an hour for the final hardness to set. Ultraviolet light is used to speed up the hardening.

A second type of artificial nail is the UV-gel. These are more flexible and have a high-gloss finish than acrylics. As their name suggests, ultraviolet light is used to harden the nails.

UV light is also used for a topcoat sealant. Because artificial nails yellow from UV light (especially tanning booths), a top coat can be used to protect the nail. This topcoat is cured (or set) using UV light.

The amount of radiation that your fingers get from the nail treatment is comparable to what you would get in a tanning booth. Because nails are done every 2-4 weeks (one would hope), that can add up to a significant amount of UV exposure over years.

No large scale studies have been done to examine the danger of using UV light for nails, but these patients suggest that there is likely a risk, especially if you have fair skin or have a history of skin cancer.

Photo: Monibela (flickr)