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SBU Study: CFL Bulbs Have Harmful Effects on Skin

Researchers find compact fluorescent light bulbs are safest when placed behind a cover of glass.

A team of researchers at Stony Brook University has completed a study that shows up-close exposure to compact fluorescent light bulbs has an effect similar to that of the exposure of skin cells to UV radiation, the university announced Wednesday.

The study, inspired by a European study and funded by the National Science Foundation, found that CFL bulbs produce UV emissions due to cracks in the bulbs' phosphor coatings, and that they are safer when placed behind an additional glass cover.

Researchers purchased CFL bulbs from various locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, examined the phosphor coatings in each one, and measured the amount of UV emissions. They used the same bulbs to test the effects of exposure on healthy human skin tissue cells. They also studied incandescent light bulbs with the same intensity, and introduced nanoparticles of titanium dioxide – which is found in personal care products such as sunscreen and cosmetics for UV absorption.

Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, who led the study, said in a statement that the study showed that healthy skin cells respond consistently to both UV emitted from CFL bulbs and UV radiation. She also said skin cell damage increased when small amounts of titanium dioxide were applied to the skin cells before they were exposed to the CFL emissions. According to the study, the incandescent light bulbs had no effect on the healthy skin cells regardless of the presence of the titanium dioxide.

“Skin cell damage was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles were introduced to the skin cells prior to exposure.” Rafailovich added that incandescent light of the same intensity had no effect on healthy skin cells, with or without the presence of TiO2.

“Despite their large energy savings, consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover,” said Rafailovich, who is a professor of materials science and engineering and the director of the Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces at Stony Brook, who led the study.

The research was published in the June issue of Photochemistry and Photobiology.

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