The Dangers of LED And CFL Lightbulbs (And the Safest Alternative)

light bulb

Light is a relatively modern marvel allowing us to see even when the sun has dipped below the horizon. However, despite the many advances made to lightbulbs, there are some hidden dangers that are not as well-talked about as they should be.

There are three main types of lightbulbs: light-emitting diodes (LEDs), compact fluorescents (CFLs), and incandescent light. The first two pose significant health risks, which are often looked over because of their greater energy efficiency. However, these health concerns continue to negatively impact society. 

The Health Effects of LED Lightbulbs

One of the most popular lightbulbs currently on the market is the LED lightbulb due to its energy efficiency and longer-lasting nature.

The light-emitting diode (LED) emits light from the short-wave, high-energy blue and violet end of the visible light spectrum. This light range impacts our sleep cycle, and exposure to it helps to control our circadian rhythm. However, using this light indoors and at all hours of the day throws our circadian rhythm off, making it difficult to fall asleep. Additionally, this continued exposure to blue light increases the likelihood of headaches.

LED lightbulbs may also contribute to cataracts, with a 2014 study on rats finding that chronic exposure to LED lights had a greater effect on a rat’s retinas than other light sources with less blue light.

Other studies have reported that LED lights contribute to headaches due to their increased amount of flickering. When compared to fluorescent bulbs, which dim to only 35% with each flicker, LED lights dim to less than 10%. This significant decline in light with each flicker disrupts the movement control of the eyes, which causes the brain to work harder and may be why those who use LEDs report more headaches.

There is also a risk with LED lights that break because they contain a range of dangerous neurotoxins, including lead and arsenic. If these lightbulbs break, these compounds then become airborne and inhaled.  

The Health Effects of CFL Lightbulbs

Compact fluorescent (CFL) lightbulbs produce light when an electric current flows between electrodes placed at either end of a gas-filled tube. The reaction produces heat and ultraviolet light, which then becomes light when it hits the phosphor coating on the bulb’s interior.

However, the components of CFL lightbulbs can cause electric smog or “dirty electricity” to be emitted by the electrical wiring they are connected to. This electric smog is a form of EMF radiation, which has been linked to brain tumors, cancer, and male infertility.

Electric smog refers to irregular spikes and surges of electric energy transmitted along electrical wiring. As the electric energy reaches higher frequencies, it can become airborne and go through the walls into the rooms of buildings. Electric smog typically occurs when appliances, such as the CFL bulb, try to alter the normal flow of alternating electrical current.

A study has also found that CFL lightbulbs emit high levels of ultraviolet radiation (specifically UVA and UVC rays) and that the UV rays emitted by CFL lightbulbs are strong enough to burn skin and damage skin cells. Close exposure to CFLs, specifically around a foot or so, could be equivalent to the sun exposure experienced at the equator. This places CFL lightbulbs used in up-close appliances, such as a desk lamp, dangerous.

CFL bulbs also contain mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause severe health problems

Incandescent Bulbs: The Best Choice

Incandescent bulbs typically get a bad rap because they are considered the most energy inefficient, but these lightbulbs remain the best for your health.

Of all the lightbulbs, incandescent lights most closely mimic natural light from the sun. They accomplish this by having electrical current heating their base, producing heat and visible light. This act of incandescence makes the incandescent bulb very similar to sunlight, and the body recognizes this similarity.

One of the biggest appeals of incandescent lightbulbs is that they give off a warm light, not the cool-toned light common in LED and CFL lightbulbs. This is because incandescent lights include a wider light range, which includes infrared light.

Infrared light, specifically near-infrared light, is considered a healing form of light because the body is able to take in this light and use it when healing and repairing tissue. Infrared light also plays a prominent role in the production of ATP in the body, which is the cell’s energy source.

Incandescent bulbs also have a lower flicker than CFL and LED lights, which ensures that the light won’t cause headaches and nausea.

Choosing the Best Light

With all the lightbulbs on the market, choosing one to use as a light in your house can be challenging. 

Despite their claims for better energy efficiency, both LED and CFL lightbulbs can negatively impact your health through blue light production, UV radiation, and EMF radiation. Because of this, incandescent lightbulbs remain the best because of their ability to most closely mimic the natural sun, and because they do not have the potential to cause these harmful effects.

References

Shang, Y., Wang, G., Sliney, D., Yang, C., & Lee, L. (2014). White Light–Emitting Diodes (LEDs) at Domestic Lighting Levels and Retinal Injury in a Rat Model. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(3), 269-276. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307294

Lighting Ergonomics – Light Flicker. (2019). https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/lighting_flicker.html

Singh, S. & Kapoo, N. (2014). Health Implications of Electromagnetic Fields, Mechanisms of Action, and Research Needs. Advances in Biology, vol. 2014, Article ID 198609, 24 pages, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/198609

Kivrak, E., Yurt, K., Kaplan, A., Alkan, I., & Altun, G. (2017). Effects of electromagnetic fields exposure on the antioxidant defense system. Journal Of Microscopy And Ultrastructure, 5(4), 167. doi: 10.1016/j.jmau.2017.07.003

Kesari, K., Agarwal, A., & Henkel, R. (2018). Radiations and male fertility. Reproductive Biology And Endocrinology, 16(1). doi: 10.1186/s12958-018-0431-1

Duarte, I., Hafner, M., & Malvestiti, A. (2015). Ultraviolet radiation emitted by lamps, TVs, tablets and computers: are there risks for the population?. Anais Brasileiros De Dermatologia, 90(4), 595-597. doi: 10.1590/abd1806-4841.20153616

Mercury and health. (2017). Retrieved 16 July 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mercury-and-health

Begum, R., Calaza, K., Kam, J., Salt, T., Hogg, C., & Jeffery, G. (2015). Near-infrared light increases ATP, extends lifespan and improves mobility in aged Drosophila melanogaster. Biology Letters, 11(3), 20150073. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0073

Bai, Y., Zhang, J., Wen, D., Gong, P., Liu, J., Ju, J., & Chen, X. (2020). A reconfigurable, self-healing and near infrared light responsive thermoset shape memory polymer. Composites Science And Technology, 187, 107940. doi: 10.1016/j.compscitech.2019.107940

One response to “The Dangers of LED And CFL Lightbulbs (And the Safest Alternative)”

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