Is fluorescent lighting harmful to your health?

As early as 1974, Dr. Richard Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began to identify negative health effects associated with fluorescent lighting including migraines, disrupted sexual development, and obesity, because the distorted spectrum of fluorescent light acts to suppress melatonin and disrupt circadian rhythms of the human body.

Fluorescent vs Daylight

Later published studies indicate further negative health effects including increases in breast cancer rates, although this list barely scratches the surface of studies reporting negative health effects:

•Fluorescent lighting enhances tumor formation (Wiskemann A., Sturm, E., Klehr, N.W., 1986 Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology)
•Fluorescent lighting contributes to agoraphobia (Hazell, J., Wilkins. A.J., Psychology & Medicine, 1990)
•Increase in breast cancer rates among night workers exposed to fluorescent light (O’Leary, et al American Journal of Epidemiology, 2006)
(Note: it is currently postulated that the distorted spectral distribution of fluorescent light disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms through melatonin suppression which causes hormonal shifts resulting in increases in breast cancer. )
•Circadian disruption caused by fluorescent light in the built environment contributes to breast cancer and endocrine disruption (Stevens, & Rea, Cancer Causes and Control, 2001)
•Fluorescent lighting caused increased stress in humans. (Basso, M.R. Jr., Journal of Neuroscience, 2001)

Natural daylight provides the only true full spectrum lighting. Incandescent light is closer in spectral distribution to natural daylight; fluorescent light is far different which accounts for its negative effects on the human body. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of well documented scientific photobiological studies indicating the negative effects of fluorescent lighting.

Legislation is tending toward favoring fluorescent lighting because of its energy saving properties, however, consumers need to be concerned and informed about the health issues linked to fluorescent lighting. It is essential for designers to know the facts before they specify lighting for their clients. While we must all find ways to conserve energy, we should not rush to judgment and make matters worse by adopting technologies whose ramifications are not fully understood. We urge you to please investigate the very real, and very negative effects of fluorescent lighting and if you are as concerned as we are, to contact your legislative representatives.

Novel lighting sources with far different spectral distributions than natural daylight should only be adopted after careful study of their effects.

Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs:

You may have these “curly” light bulbs in your home, or you may at least have heard about them. You will be hearing a whole lot more. Today’s new generation of CFLs look very similar to standard incandescent light bulbs, but they perform very differently and they have a completely different spectral distribution from natural daylight or incandescent light. So what? – you might be saying. Well, that difference may spell big trouble for your health. Soon, incandescent lighting may be outlawed in the U.S., and other countries such as Australia have already banned them in favor of fluorescent light. But, before we embrace fluorescent technology as our savior, we need to take a closer look at CFLs and fluorescent light in general.

The Good News About Fluorescent Light

On the plus side, CFL’s do save energy. Saving energy is good for the planet and may retard global warming. It is said that if every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star CFL it would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 cars. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But, although they save energy, CFLs and fluorescent lights have some seriously negative effects.

The Bad News About Fluorescent Light

One of the negatives is that CFLs contain mercury and must be disposed of properly in order to prevent contamination of our environment, our landfills and our water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued specific guidelines for fluorescent lights. Did you know that if you break a fluorescent light bulb you must open the window and leave the room for 15 minutes to allow the mercury to disperse before you attempt to clean it up? Did you know that you cannot vacuum up mercury, or sweep it up or wash contaminated clothing in a washing machine? And that you should use rubber gloves, not your bare hands to avoid mercury contamination? Fluorescent bulbs must be recycled in most states; you cannot just throw them in the trash without environmental pollution. Mercury contamination is a serious problem which will proliferate from improper use of fluorescent lighting.

The other bad news is less well known but no less important – fluorescent light may have a very damaging effect on our bodies. The effects of different light sources on the body have been researched at a long list of prestigious institutions including MIT, and Harvard University. The latest research is being done on how different colors of light (spectral distributions) affect the body’s circadian rhythms. Researchers used to think of the eye as the main organ for vision but because of the recent discovery of additional nerve connections, it is now understood that light mediates and controls a number of biochemical processes in the human body, including the production of important hormones through control of the light/dark cycle (circadian rhythms) – the body’s biological clock.

The Difference between Fluorescent and Natural Daylight Spectra:

This topic is complex and highly detailed, involving the balance between hormones such as cortisol (”stress hormone”) and melatonin (”sleep hormone”). Here are known facts in a nutshell: fluorescent light gives off a very distorted spectrum which is very different from the natural daylight in which our bodies have evolved. Fluorescent light disrupts our circadian rhythms – our body’s regulator mechanism – and in doing so studies have shown negative health effects from minor annoyances such as headaches, eyestrain, fatigue, and weight gain, to serious effects such as insomnia and sleep disturbances, an increased risk of cancer, and a suppressed immune system.

Alternative Light Sources

With so many studies showing negative health effects of fluorescent light and a real need to conserve energy, is there an alternative? Yes. There are a number of different light systems that can save energy without the negative effects of fluorescent light. The one we prefer and have chosen for our own home is Solux. We are not affiliated with Solux in any way; we just think it is a superior product that we want to share with you. Solux is an environmentally friendly patented light source which does not contain hazardous materials and saves energy while giving an almost perfect daylight substitute (unlike most so-called daylight or full spectrum bulbs). Solux is also used to treat SAD syndrome. Graphs at the Solux website show the different spectral distributions of incandescent, fluorescent and Solux lighting in relation to natural daylight. If you take a moment to look at them you will see clearly how radically fluorescent lighting differs from daylight. Charts may be viewed at Solux and you can learn more and purchase products by visiting their site at

Copyrighted Cherie Fehrman and Kenneth Fehrman, 2010. All rights reserved.

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