Background/purpose: The incandescent electric light bulb has been in widespread use since the early part of the 20th century. There is now a strong move underway to improve lighting efficiency to cut carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, many countries have introduced legislation to phase out the use of incandescent bulbs, and these are largely being replaced with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). The rate at which CFLs are replacing the traditional bulbs has caused alarm among patients with light-sensitive skin disorders as there has been very little informed discussion regarding the safety of these new lamps for this group of patients. The purpose of the present paper is to review the available literature to assess the likely impact of CFLs on the skin of normal and photosensitive individuals.
Methods: All data sources were identified through searches of MEDLINE and a manual literature search.
Results: The spectrum of light emitted by CFLs is different from incandescent light. In particular, some CFLs emit short wavelength UV radiation at 253.7 nm. Most published reports show that the short wavelengths can be eliminated by the use of a double envelope. There are very little data examining directly the risk to photosensitive individuals. In one study, a patient with chronic actinic dermatitis had a severe erythematous reaction from an exposure of only 2.5 min' duration.
Conclusion: CFLs present a low level of risk to individuals of normal sensitivity but they are potentially harmful to photosensitive patients. We recommend the use of double envelope lamps, and consideration given to the adoption of a ‘UV-safe’ classification scheme.