Health Effects of Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting, specifically CFLs, or compact fluorescent lights, are becoming more and more commonly used in homes and offices as people turn to "green living." Fluorescent lights are an efficient source of energy; according to the Thurston County, Washington Department of Public Health and Social Services, a fluorescent light bulb lasts up to ten times longer than other types of lighting, and uses a mere one-fourth of the energy burned by incandescent bulbs 4. This economic and environmentally conscious form of lighting can lead to both positive and negative health effects.

Enhanced Mood

One of the positive health effects derived from fluorescent lighting is an enhanced mood. People who have seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression called SAD that is often associated with the prolonged periods of darkness during the winter, can undergo phototherapy as a treatment that mimics the natural light of spring and summer. The New Zealand Dermatological Society explains that fluorescent lightbulbs may be used to produce UV rays during phototherapy sessions 2.

Improved Skin Conditions

Phototherapy with fluorescent lighting can also improve certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, light therapy, sometimes combined with topical or oral medications, slows the abnormal shedding of skin cells, which is characteristic of psoriasis 1. Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease that causes your skin to shed more quickly than normal, a process that creates a thick buildup of scales that become itchy and irritated. Fluorescent light therapy can also be used as an unmedicated treatment for eczema, or an inflammation of the skin called dermatitis 1.

Migraine Headaches

If you are prone to migraine headaches, you might want to examine the type of lightbulbs you use in your home or workplace. A 2008 article in the U.K. newspaper "The Daily Mail" suggests that some people who use fluorescent lighting might see an increase in their migraines. Though CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs provide a constant source of light, larger, more traditional types of fluorescent lighting often used in schools and office buildings can flicker at times like a strobe. This type of output can contribute to the start of a headache, or even seizures, in some people. U.K.-based Energy Savings Trust recommends that customers replace older fluorescent lighting with newer bulbs to avoid this negative health effect.

Mercury Poisoning

Fluorescent lightbulbs contain the toxic compound mercury, which could cause mercury poisoning in varying degrees if you handle broken bulbs without protection 5. The amount of mercury present in your fluorescent lightbulb is very small in most cases--some bulbs contain as little as 3.5 mg per bulb, but the threat of mercury poisoning and its complications can be very real 5. Signs of mercury poisoning can include:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • swollen gums
  • a metallic taste in your mouth
  • breathing difficulties
  • explains the National Institutes of Health 5

If the condition is not treated, you could withstand permanent lung or brain damage, and kidney failure.