Are light bulbs damaging your skin?

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Scientists have shown that some energy saving lightbulbs leak UV radiation that can damage your skin.

Energy saving light bulbs are great for saving energy and cutting power bills so it’s a win-win situation, right? 

It’s not necessarily so; scientists in Europe and the US have carried out research into the potentially harmful effects of energy-saving light bulbs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) to give them their proper name. The upshot from both studies is that this type of bulb may be harmful to human skin in certain conditions, due to UV radiation “leaking” out of the bulbs.

The European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks accepted the Study on Light Sensitivity in 2008. Scientists at Stony Brook University built on this research and in their findings, released in 2012, they agreed that there is a risk from CFL bulbs. In both cases, researchers determined that skin reacts to ultra violet (UV) light from these bulbs in the same way that it reacts to UV radiation.

UV radiation can damage skin cells, cause sun burn, damage skin cell DNA and dehydrate as well as depleting collagen in the skin.

This doesn’t mean that you need to dispose of all your CFL bulbs, you just need to exercise some caution. For example, avoid using them at a distance of less than 20cm. In most cases, this will affect desk lamps used for close working or bedside lamps and night lights. You can also use an extra glass cover to reduce any hazard.

It is important to keep things in perspective though, as the main source of UV radiation comes from the sun and it is vital to use sun screen all year round, even on days when it doesn’t seem very sunny. The UV index for the UK shows that UV is relatively low in December, January and February. It begins to increase in March, peaking in mid-summer. This means that UV levels are riskier for nine months of the year. 

Because sun damage doesn’t show up right away, many people think they have escaped harm. However, most sun damage occurs during our childhood and teenage years but the ill effects don’t show up in the majority of cases until we hit middle age. This means that is crucial to protect children and young people. Protection includes using an effective sunscreen that is right for your skin type, but also covering up too. Encourage children to wear a hat and to cover up with a light shirt, especially during the middle of the day. 

Ideally, it is best to stay out of the midday sun; either go indoors or find some shade. If neither of these options is possible, at least stay away from light reflecting surfaces such as oceans, lakes and swimming pools. And remember to reapply sun screen periodically throughout the day.

So, by all means carry out a check on your light bulbs; prioritise those used at short distances and either replace them, or shield them with an additional layer of glass. But don’t forget that the really harmful source of UV light is the sun which is there all year round, whether it seems to be shining or not. Protect yourself and your family.

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