The researchers found that nearly every compact fluorescent bulb available in stores across the Suffolk and Nassau county regions of Long Island, N.Y., emitted “significant” levels of UV rays that caused skin damage. Exposure to incandescents did not. Colored fluorescent bulbs have lower UV emissions because the color coating helps protect the phosphor layer.
"In the past two years some disturbing reports have surfaced mostly in the European Union literature, which indicate that exposure to CFL bulbs might be responsible for exacerbating certain skin conditions, such as photodermatoses and skin cancer in humans," the report states.
Rafailovich launched the Stony Brook study after reading about a rise in skin cancer rates on an Israeli communal farm after the residents swapped all their incandescent bulbs for CFLs.
“Despite their large energy savings, consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs,” Rafailovich said in an interview with Futurity. "You should not need suntan lotion to protect you from indoor lighting," she said in U.S. News & World Report.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we must replace all the CFLs we’ve already installed or shy away from them entirely. Now that we know the bulbs release UV rays, however, it wouldn’t hurt to be more careful about your exposure. It’s easy enough to minimize your risk by taking the following measures.
1. At close range, Stony Brook engineering professor Miriam Rafailovich told Scientific American, CFL exposure is "the equivalent of sunbathing at the equator.” Don’t use the bulbs at close distances. Remain at least 1 foot away from the light source. The safest distance is several feet or more.
2. Put an extra glass cover around the bulbs. Do not let bulbs be exposed.
3. Examine your bulbs carefully. If the coating has “bald spots” where it has chipped away, recycle it. UV rays seep through cracks in the phosphor coating.
4. Do not look directly at CFLs.
5. Wear your sunscreen, even indoors.
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