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Energy Efficient Light Bulbs May Harm Skin

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A study published 7/20/12 by the the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology reports that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) may actually be harming your skin.

Energy Efficient Light Bulbs May Harm Skin

CFL’s provide the same amount of lumens as incandescent light bulbs, but utilize only 1/4th the amount of energy. As a part of the study, researchers purchased CFL bulbs from a variety of locations around New York and measured the amount of UV emissions as well as the integrity of each bulbs phosphor coating. They found significant levels of UV-C and UV-A, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coating. It’s important to note that ALL the bulbs tested had cracks in the phosphor coating. The researchers looked at cells (fibroblasts and keratinocytes) exposed to CFL’s and noted changes consistent with accelerated aging of the skin, specifically:

  • a decrease in cell proliferation rate
  • significant increase in the production of oxygen free radicals
  • decrease in ability to contract collagen

These tests were repeated with incandescent lights of the same intensity and with the introduction of titanium dioxide (TiO2) which is found in sunscreens and other skin care products used for UV protection. Surprisingly,  cells pre-treated with the TiO2 (the stuff that’s supposed to protect our skin) and then exposed to CFLs, actually experienced MORE damage.. Incandescent light exposure with or without TiO2 has no effect on the cells.

The researchers recommendations? Avoid using CFL bulbs at close distances and when possible, put an additional glass covering over the bulb.

Obviously, more research needs to be done in this area. But be aware that many governments around the world have already initiated the phaseout of incandescent light bulbs. The European Union started to phase them out in 2009. United States has scheduled phaseout in 2014. 

Posted By: Sarah Yousuff, MD

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