Compact Florescent Light Bulbs: Good For Environment, Bad For Skin?

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Uhoh! The first step of going green and conserving energy, generally speaking, is switching out your light bulbs for energy efficient florescent bulbs. I, for one, can vouch that all the bulbs in my home have been replaced. After all, energy efficient bulbs last six times as long as traditional bulbs and use 75 percent less energy. Win-win!

That said, a recent study by Stony Brook University published in the June issue of the journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology has found that while conserving compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs) are good for energy conservation and our wallets, they may not be so great for our skin. Lead researcher Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, PhD, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and the Director of the Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces at Stony Brook, warns that CFLs can damage human skin cells since they emit ultraviolet radiation and thus, consumers should use precautions.

In the abstract of the study, the researchers write: “In this study, we studied the effects of exposure to CFL illumination on healthy human skin tissue cells (fibroblasts and keratinocytes). Cells exposed to CFLs exhibited a decrease in the proliferation rate, a significant increase in the production of reactive oxygen species, and a decrease in their ability to contract collagen.” The researchers also share a note of disclaimer that the exposure effects have not been thoroughly investigated.

Dr. Rafailovich states:

Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation. Despite their large energy savings, consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover.

The findings from this study are consistent with an earlier European study, which also was the inspiration for the recent experiment. The European researchers found that CFLs can aggravate skin conditions, but ultimately concluded that “in general, the probability that artificial lighting for visibility purposes induces any acute pathologic conditions is low, since the levels of maximum exposure are normally much lower than those where such effects are known to occur in healthy people and certainly much lower than in typical summer daylight.”

But before you stock away your CFL bulbs, consider this: The risk of the bulbs is easily eliminated by purchasing double-envelope CFLs, using a lampshade, or staying more than a foot away from an exposed bulb. Another solution: Sunscreen. Dermatologists around the world cannot stress enough how important sunscreen is for skin care and how everyone should be wearing it at all times. Consumers should opt for implementing these cautionary measures so that they can continue conserving energy and saving money whilst not damaging their skin.

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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