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UVA and UVC Skin-damaging Radiation Found in Energy-efficient Light Bulbs

Posted: July 25, 2012

Researchers from Stony Brook University have reported that compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs emit UVC and UVA radiation found to be damaging to human skin tissue in close proximity. CFL bulbs were designed to offer a more energy-efficient alternative to incandescent light bulbs.

The researchers, led by Miriam Rafailovich, PhD, professor of materials science and engineering and the director of the Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces at Stony Brook, published this findings in “The Effects of UV Emission from CFL Exposure on Human Dermal Fibroblasts and Keratinocytes in Vitro,” an article appearing in the June issue of Photochemistry and Photobiology.

The team measured the amount of UV emissions and the integrity of each bulb’s phosphor coatings. Significant levels of UVC and UVA were found to be released from cracks in the phosphor coatings. Then the researchers studied the effects of the same bulbs on fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Cells exposed to CFLs exhibited a decrease in the proliferation rate, migration, collagen contraction and increase in reactive oxygen species production. They found that the cells responded to UV radiation emitted from the CFL bulbs in a similar manner to UV radiation from the sun. When the researchers introduced low dosages of titanium dioxide nanoparticles prior to exposure, they found the damage was further enhanced. 

Tests were repeated with incandescent light bulbs of the same intensity and titanium dioxide  nanoparticles. The incandescent light bulbs, however, did no damage to healthy skin cells, which was consistent both with and without the nanoparticles.

The researchers recommend being careful when using CFL bulbs, to avoid exposing skin at a close range and to place them behind a glass cover.