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Fluorescent lights and lamps have become more common household light sources since they are more energy-efficient than conventional bulbs, and are therefore safer and less harmful to the environment.

Lately, though, these light sources have been noted to affect human health in various ways.

Time of exposure

Fluorescent light sources emit short wavelength ranges and when humans are exposed to these wavelengths at night, they seem to suppress the production of melatonin which is a hormone produced by the brain that regulates the circadian rhythm which is responsible for the sleeping patterns of individuals. Certain people may therefore not be able to sleep properly due to exposure to certain fluorescent lamps.

The colours of the fluorescent lamps seem to be factors that affect the rate of melatonin suppression with cool daylight colours seemingly causing the most suppression and warm white lamps the least.

Warm white fluorescent lamps are therefore suggested to be used at nighttime in order to reduce the risk of possible sleeping disturbances. 

Ultraviolet radiation 

Close proximity skin exposure to compact fluorescent lamps can result in ultraviolet radiation exposure levels similar to that of direct sunlight.

In the case where close or direct contact to open compact fluorescent lamps cannot be avoided, it is suggested that these individuals replace their lamps with encapsulated compact fluorescent lamps.

Flicker effects

Fluorescent lamps that contain magnetic ballasts flicker at a frequency of 50 or 60 hertz (Hz). Normally, this flicker rate is not noticeable but those with issues such as light sensitivity do seem to be more sensitive to the rate at which these bulbs flicker.

Therefore, these lamps may be problematic for patients with conditions such as:

  • Epilepsy.
  • Autism.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Vertigo.
  • Lyme disease.

The flicker rates in these bulbs have also been associated with individuals experiencing increased frequencies of headaches and eyestrain. Individuals who are known to have a high flicker fusion threshold are especially affected by electromagnetic ballasts as the flicker rate caused by these seem to augment these individual's alpha brain waves. The result in that they perform office tasks much faster but with decreased precision.

The best suggestion in cases where individuals may be affected by the flicker rate of these bulbs is to rather use compact fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts. These lamps operate at a frequency of between 25 and 60 Hz which far exceeds one's ability to perceive flickering. 

Other connections between artificial light and human diseases 

In 2008, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) looked into connections between artificial light and certain human conditions and the following issues were discovered:

  • Flicker from artificial lights may trigger seizures in those known with photosensitive epilepsy, but this hasn't been shown to occur with fluorescent lamps.
  • Cataracts may develop in those exposed to ultraviolet light, but there shouldn't be an increased risk of the condition if the UV emission from the light source is a sufficient distance away from the individual.
  • Phytophotodermatitis may develop if exposed to UV light from compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Actinic prurigo may be worsened by exposure to compact fluorescent lamps. 
  • Autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus may be exacerbated by exposure to compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Patients known with Meniere's disease can also have their vertigo aggravated by flickering from fluorescent lights.

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