Are LED Light Bulbs Messing Up Your Vision?
LED lighting has come up leaps and bounds from the times it was just being used as indicators in small gadgets. Now, the push to be more environmentally friendly has seen older styles of lighting to increasingly be replaced by LED lights. Unfortunately, the transition to eco-friendly lighting has its own problems.
We don’t want to panic you; there’s absolutely no reason to start taking out all the LED bulbs you have in your house. First, we have to start understanding how this kind of lighting actually affects our health. LED lighting is probably one of the most common, non-native EMF radiation exposures we are being exposed to on a daily basis. Mobile phones and laptops, as well as houe lighting all, use LEDs. Exposure to this is known to lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and elsewhere. In addition to this, studies have shown that the blue light (emitted by LEDs) restricts the production of melatonin (something we humans need to help us sleep and regenerate.
You’re probably wondering; “why is it only LED lighting?” Well, unlike other types of light bulbs, LEDs emit a different spectrum of light. Most LED lamps consist of a blue LED, a driver LED, and a fluorescent sheet that covers the blue LED. This transforms the blue light to longer wavelengths, creating a yellowish light. This, combined with the residual blue light, creates a whitish light most of which is made out of blue light. LEDs don’t emit near-infrared or infrared-A, which physicists think is just a thermal waste. Although this white light is extremely desirable in most homes, as it is clearer and brighter, it can cause damage to the eye retina – something which cannot be repaired by our body’s immune system.
LEDs emit lower frequencies — blue light — and no infrared (near-infrared or infrared-A) light. An excess of blue light actually generates reactive oxygen species (ROS), which may result in significant damage to cell structures. Blue light causes ROS damage in your tissues, and this stress needs to be balanced with near-infrared. As mentioned before, blue light can also cause melatonin production to reduce, which our bodies need especially at night when it’s time for us to hit the hay. When using LEDs, you end up increasing the damage and decreasing chances of repair and regeneration. Basically, anything that interferes with our sleep is extremely negative.
Do I Switch Back?
So, what should you do? It isn’t a sustainable plan to go back to incandescent bulbs; they eat up so much power, cost so much more, they’re bad for the environment, plus they’re not that easy to find now that many places have started banning them.
Another option is to switch to CFLs or compact fluorescent bulbs. These require less power to light up, but they too have their own issues. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which is toxic, making it difficult to dispose of and a possible hazard if it breaks. We don’t really recommend this either.
Don’t worry, it isn’t a case of just picking the lesser evil…the best thing you can do is to understand what type of LEDs to look for when shopping for lights. Careful consideration can go a long way, especially when it comes to our health.
How do you identify which LEDs are healthier?
So which type of LED bulb should you get? The obvious answer would be “the one that doesn’t damage my eyes.” But this can be a tiny bit difficult to work out, but we will try and help you.
You can find a wide range of LED lights in the market, labels such as ‘cool white’ and ‘warm white’ for example, will all become noticeable now. First things first, the cool white LED bulbs emit a high amount of blue light, which means you might want to stay away from these ones.
Warm white LEDs are a bit tricky. They do give out a warm-toned light, but don’t be fooled - they don’t actually emit red wavelength, which is the wavelength that gives off near-infrared or infrared-A. The warmth actually comes from masking blue with high amounts of orange and yellow. Some LED bulbs have less blue in their lights, which makes the spectral distribution close to incandescent lamps. Unfortunately, the box doesn’t tell you the tailored spectrum. You’ll need tools to measure the light quality to know the exact light spectrum you’re getting.
Our little advice to you when picking a LED light bulb is to think of the sun. We know it sounds a little strange but bear with us. The best type of light is natural light, which has a CRI of 100. Incandescent light bulbs and candles give off a light that’s close to this mark (which is why they look so good when being used as mood lighting). What you’re looking for is a bulb that has a full red spectrum (R9) CRI of about 97, which is usually the most you can get with a LED bulb. Another detail you should look for is colour temperature. There are two types: Physical Colour Temperature and Correlated Colour Temperature.
Mind The Colour Temperature
Physical colour temperature is the temperature the bulb emits in degrees Kelvin (K). This covers halogens, incandescent lamp light, candlelight, sunlight. What this means is that the source itself is as hot to the touch as the colour temperature given. So, for example, the sun has a colour temperature of 5,500 K. Hypothetically, if you were to touch the sun, its temperature is really at 5,500 K. Incandescent light bulbs actually have a 3,000 K maximum temperature since anything higher than that would melt the filament.
As for correlated colour temperature, this measures how the light source appears to the human eye. It’s more of a comparative measurement, being that a correlated colour temperature of 2,700 K simply looks like a natural light source which has a colour temperature of 2,700 K, but their physical temperatures don’t have to match. With that, even though the light looks the same, they don’t generally have the same quality and effect on your body on a cellular level. You need to be sure not to be fooled by what your eyes see. The light emitted by these bulbs are mostly blue light, which again, may be damaging when there’s too much of it in the environment.
We know this all seems a little confusing, so as a simple comparison, incandescent bulbs have color temperatures of about 2,700 K while an LED that is labelled to be the same brightness of an incandescent bulb can reach as high as 6,500 K. The best thing to do is to get an LED bulb that has a correlated color temperature that’s close to its physical color temperature. This way, you’ll get a better light quality that doesn’t affect you as much on a cellular level.
Warm and Natural Tones are the Way to Go
If you don’t want to get technical about wavelengths and colour temperatures, your best bet is going for a warm and natural tone LED. Warm white LEDs give off a yellowish light that’s less harsh on the eyes. You’ve probably noticed that a lot of gadgets, like phones and computers, now have the option to make the screen yellow, in fact, many automatically do it at night – this is the exact reason why it is a helpful change that has a lot more benefits than you realise.
As for the lightbulbs themselves, they are perfect for areas in your home like the living room and bedroom where you don’t even want a harsh light, but rather a romantic, cozy feel. Another option is to get a natural white LED which is basically somewhere in the middle of pure white; producing a light similar to daylight that has a slightly blue tint, and warm white LEDs. these give off a slightly yellow light, but not as yellow as a warm white LED. Even seemingly little changes like this can go a long way.
Don’t forget there are many other ways that you can limit your exposure to LED lighting, including reducing screen time during the day, eating more foods containing vitamin A and avoiding LED lighting at least 60 minutes before bedtime (to avoid the disruption of our sleep patterns.) Really consider where you and do and do not need the bright, white LED lights. Not to mention, turning off your lights and electronics when you don’t need them will have many other benefits.
There’s nothing to panic about, with all the new fast developing technology in the lighting industry, LED developers will most likely find a way to get their bulbs as close to natural light, in terms of wavelength and light quality, reducing or eliminating eye damage. But for now, choosing the right LED bulbs is the best advice we can give you. Being a little bit more mindful could save you money and a lot of eye strain. Definitely worth a shot.