"Green" Lightbulbs Could Harm Your Skin

A new study gives reason to replace squiggly bulbs with even safer, more efficient bulbs.

November 18, 2013


Environmentalists have long viewed compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) as "gateway green lightbulbs," more of a temporary, ecofriendly fix until light-emitting diodes (LEDs) improved and dropped in price.


While the squiggly CFLs bring many positives, including better efficiency and lower energy bills, they don't come without baggage. Most notably, homeowners have to take extra care not to break or improperly dispose of them, thanks to the mercury inside this type of bulb. There now seems to be another reason to replace your CFLs with LEDs.

A new study appearing in the British Journal of Dermatology found ultraviolet radiation from the energy-saving CFLs irritated the skin of people with both sensitive and nonsensitive skin.

Scientists took 200 people with known sensitivity to the sun and placed the delicate skin of their inner forearms close to a CFL lightbulb. Another 101 photosensitive patents were exposed to LED lighting, and then 20 other patients with normal skin were exposed to CFLs.

Skin irritation and redness occurred after testing in both groups exposed to a CFL. Two of the 20 healthy-skin study participants developed irritated skin, while 16 people with chronic photosensitivity showed a reaction; 12 people prone to light-induced rashes and hives also had a negative reaction to the CFL bulbs. By contrast, the LED bulb did not cause any skin discoloration or irritation in any of the study participants. In the study, researchers concluded that LED light is a safer source, as it lacks UVR emissions.

Since some LEDs can last nearly 20 years, it probably pays to fork out a little more to invest in this kind of lighting. Major brands like Sylvania, Philips, GE, and Home Depot's EcoSmart are popular choices. But to get what you really want, it's important to understand Kelvins and lumens.
As a rule of thumb, a 300- to 900-lumen LED bulb (which uses 6 to 8 watts of energy) puts out roughly the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent, and a 1,600 lumen LED bulb (using about 13 watts) would work well in a reading lamp, putting out the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent.
Kelvins (k) measure color temperature—the lower the Kelvin temperature, the warmer the light, and vice versa. Warm light, similar to an incandescent bulb’s, runs 2,700 k, while cooler light is 3,500 k. Bulbs with 5,000 k or more are most similar to daylight and are best for outdoor flood lamps or garage workspaces.