You’ve heard about it before and it’s probably why you have compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) lighting your home this very moment: compared to incandescent light bulbs, CFLs are far more energy efficient, using just a quarter of the energy used by an incandescent light bulb to generate the same lighting power. Indeed, since the advent of fluorescent bulbs, these spirally lights have quickly taken over as the most popular choice in lighting.
Despite the benefits and positive things CFLs bring to the table however, they do come with some drawbacks, most notably their use of mercury, a crucial substance in the process of emitting light. Mercury is difficult to recycle and is a health hazard in broken bulbs. The disadvantages of CFLs don’t end with mercury, as a new study from Stony Brook University shows that consumers have another thing to worry about besides trace amounts of mercury in CFLs.
Spurned by numerous claims of people who were suffering from aggravated skin problems after being exposed to CFLs, a group of researchers sought to find out if CFLs actually had the ability to make people sick. A test was set up by exposing in vitro human skin tissue to regular CFL bulbs bought at hardware stores.
The study found that the CFLs used in the experiment had cracks on the phosphor coatings, allowing UVC and UVA rays to escape. The exposure of healthy skin tissue to UV from the CFL bulbs shows damage similar to typical ultraviolet radiation damage. Furthermore, the presence of TiO2 nanoparticles—a substance found in skin care products for enhanced UV absorption—further exacerbated skin cell damage. The researchers applied low doses of TiO2 on the skin tissue to simulate the effect of tanning creams. Conversely, the exposure of skin to incandescent lights with the same lighting intensity showed no such damaging effects, even with the application of TiO2.
The researchers from Stony Brook University point out that their results shouldn’t dissuade people from using CFLs, but that they should be more conscious about the proximity of CFLs to them. CFLs aren’t advised for use in close distances to people, and they should ideally be behind a glass cover, which acts as a strain of UV.