Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Fact or Fable? Compact Fluorescent Lamps Cause Skin Damage

FactorFableWith the increasing focus on conserving energy and reducing environmental impact, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have become widely used in homes and businesses to replace traditional incandescent bulbs, which are being phased out of the market because of federal regulations. There is growing concern, however, that ultraviolet (UV) light emitted from CFLs can cause skin damage and other adverse health effects.

Most light sources, including fluorescent bulbs, emit a small amount of UV light, but the UV light produced by fluorescent light bulbs is far less than the amount produced by natural daylight. In CFLs, the glass and the coating inside the glass provides a UV filtering effect. Any additional glass, plastic or fabric used in the light fixture that is between you and the CFL further reduces the already low levels of UV.

A 2012 study by Stony Brook University in New York measured the UV radiation from CFL bulbs and the integrity of their phosphor coatings. Results revealed significant levels of radiation originating from cracks in the coatings, which were present in all of the bulbs studied. “Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation,” stated professor Miriam Rafailovich, who led the research.


Source: www.energy.gov
Compact fluorescent bulb
Other studies have failed to find any health-related hazards associated with the normal use of CFLs. Research published by Health Canada stated that at a distance of 1 foot or more, CFLs "do not pose a significant risk of acute injury to the eyes or skin, as compared to traditional incandescent lamps." (Health Canada 2009)


Unless you are one of the few individuals who have a medical condition that makes you particularly sensitive to either UV or even visible light, you should be able to use CFLs at the same distance as you would use traditional incandescent lamps, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They recommend, however, that open CFLs should not be used at distances closer than one foot or less for more than one hour per day. In these situations, it is best to use enclosed or encapsulated lamps with an extra layer of glass or plastic to act as a filter.

Inspect CFL products for damage before use and contact a physician if you suspect you are suffering from a medical condition that makes you sensitive to UV light.


Health Canada. Survey of Ultraviolet Radiation and Electric and Magnetic Fields from Compact Fluorescent Lamps. Dec. 21, 2009.

Stony Brook University. "SBU Study Reveals Harmful Effects of CFL Bulbs to Skin." Stony Brook News. July 18, 2012.

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