Do ‘Environmentally Friendly’ LED Lights Cause Blindness?
Electric lights have been on a similar hunt for perfection for over a century, and one of the most recent advancements has come in the form of LED lights.
These types of lights are found in everything from Christmas tree lights to the headlights on new automobiles and are widely praised for their unique design and low cost.
However, many people suggest a bit of caution when using or handling LED lights, as there are some potential health risks. Besides burning your fingers on a hot bulb, what could possibly be dangerous about LED lights?
Why Are LED Lights So Special?
Unlike normal lights that use a filament heated by an electric current to create and emit light, LED lights (which stand for light-emitting diode) are semiconductor diodes that emits energy in the form of light when they are turned on. When enough electricity is provided, the energy is released in the form of photons, a process called electroluminescence.
LED lights have actually been around for more than 50 years, although the initial variety emitted low-intensity infrared light. Red LEDs developed into blue LEDs a decade later, followed by the white LEDs that we see in thousands of applications today. Currently, LED lights come in a variety of intensities across the visible and invisible spectrum of light and are characterized by intense brightness using a limited amount of electricity.
Most traditional bulbs have a working time of around 5,000 hours, and even halogen bulbs tend to “pop” around 6,000 hours, but LED lights are 8x more efficient in their transfer of electrical energy to light, and have an average lifespan of around 80,000 hours. The main reason LEDs rose to such prominence is because they need to be changed far less, are a much lower fire risk, protect the environment by considering electrical energy. In recent years, they have also become comparable in price to other modern options, such as CFLs (compact fluorescent lights).
However, beneath this impressive exterior, there are some dangers to LED lights that are only recently being discovered and studied in great detail…
Are led lights safe for eyes?
If used in moderation, the health effects of these devices are likely to be minimal, but research indicates that damage will increase the more they are used or viewed.
When you consider that the average person picks up their smartphone an average of 85 times per day, and then watches TV or a laptop, it is obvious how eye damage can very quickly accumulate.
This has led to some scientists warning of a forthcoming blindness epidemic. Luckily, there are now ways to reduce our exposure and hopefully avoid sight loss.
The Secret Risks of LED Lights
One of the main concerns with LED lights relates to red LED lights, one of the oldest varieties still on the market. Those red LEDs were made with a substance called AGA (aluminum gallium arsenide), which is toxic in concentrated amounts.
If you are directly exposed to this material on work sights or through contact with broken bulbs, it can be hazardous to your health. Side effects of toxicity from AGA include respiratory, kidney, and reproductive issues in laboratory studies. The lead content in red LEDs is also toxic when directly exposed, and should be avoided.
LED lighting contains virtually no toxic substances unless the lamps are really ground into dust. What you will not do in practice, of course. This means you will not come into contact with substances that can be bad for your health.
But what about the harmfulness of the light itself?
The light color of a bulb is largely responsible for whether or not the lighting is harmful to our health. Until a few years ago we only knew LED lighting as blue or bright white color.
Fortunately that is a thing of the past and LED is now also available in beautiful warm colors. However, this blue and white light caused disruption of our sleep patterns with all the damaging consequences. The modern LED lighting as we know it now is just as safe in light color as the incandescent light bulb and many times safer than the light of laptops, phones and tablets.
The conclusion, is LED lighting harmful to your health?
Actually, this is all too overrated. LED lighting has far fewer disadvantages than most other lighting. The only light source that could win in terms of health effects of the LED bulb is the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, but it has been withdrawn from the market.
Furthermore, the LED bulbs are getting better and all lamps are equipped with safety requirements after 2012 with regard to the light color and intensity. These standards only apply in Europe so make sure you know where your lighting comes from. In this way, all our LED bulbs meet these standards so you can start to replace your old bulbs with LEDs and ensure better health!
HOW COULD EXPOSURE TO LEDS POSE ANY RISK?
LED lights emit optical radiation that could only in certain circumstances potentially damage the eyes and skin depending on several variables that have to be taken into account.
These variables include the spectrum (or wavelength distribution) of the LED light source, the intensity of the lighting (especially in the blue-band), the duration of exposure, the health of the eye and how someone is looking at the LEDs – staring at them without blinking or actively moving the eyes, and looking at them straight-on or in their peripheral vision.
Any exposure to optical radiation from LEDs, however, is likely to be insignificant compared with exposure to natural light outdoors. The primary source of optical radiation is the sun. Other types of lighting, like regular lightbulbs, also expose people to optical radiation, which is just part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is divided into radio wave, microwave, terahertz (or sub-millimetre) radiation, optical radiation (infrared (IR), the visible light (VIS), ultraviolet (UV)), X-rays and gamma rays.
The human eye is exposed to high levels of natural and artificial sources of optical radiation of different spectra and intensities over a lifetime. A lifetime of this combined exposure to optical radiation may contribute to degenerative eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.
Are There Any Healthy LEDs?
There’s a wide range of LED lights on the market these days. Some are cool white, others are warm white, for example. The former emits higher amounts of harmful blue light. The warm LEDs can be deceptive, as they give out a warm-appearing light but do not actually have the red wavelength. The warmth comes from masking the blue with high amounts of yellow and orange.
There are also LEDs available with less blue, which are closer to the spectral distribution of incandescent lamps with regard to the blue part of the spectrum. Unfortunately, without tools to measure it, you won’t know exactly what you’re getting. This is in sharp contrast to an incandescent light bulb, where you know exactly what kind of light spectrum you’re getting.
“With LED, the layman is not able to tell if it’s a tailored spectrum where you have the blue part only masked by excessive parts of other spectral regions,” Wunsch says. “There are different technologies … Soraa, for example, have violet driver LED, not blue … By their technology, the red is a little bit more emphasized compared to the standard white light fluorescent LEDs.
So there are in fact better and worse LED types around. But the spectral distribution is just one thing … We are interested in the R9, which represents the full reds. This information is sometimes given on the package. You have, for example, CRI, which is the color rendering index of 95 with an R9 of 97 or so. This is the only sign for the customer that you have a high level or a high index for the R9.”
How to Identify a Healthier LED?
So, when buying LEDs, one way to get a healthier light is to look at the CRI. Sunlight is the gold standard and has a CRI of 100. So do incandescent light bulbs and candles. What you’re looking for is a light that has an R9 (full red spectrum) CRI of about 97, which is the closest you’ll ever get to a natural light with an LED. Another factor to look at is the color temperature. There are two different kinds of color temperature:
- Physical color temperature, which means the temperature of your light in degrees Kelvin (K). This applies to sunlight, candlelight, incandescent lamp light and halogens. What this means is that the source itself is as hot to the touch as the color temperature given.
The sun, for example, which has a color temperature of 5,500 K, has a temperature of 5,500 K at its surface, were you to actually touch the sun. Incandescent lamps have a maximum of 3,000 K, as the filament would melt if the temperature got any higher.
- Correlated color temperature. This is a measurement that tells you how the light source appears to the human eye. In other words, it is a comparative measurement. A correlated color temperature of 2,700 K means it looks the same as a natural light source with a physical color temperature of 2,700 K.
The problem here is that while such a light LOOKS the same as a natural light, it does not actually have the same quality, and your body, on the cellular level, is not fooled by what your eye sees. On a cellular level, and on the level of the retina, the majority of the light is still cold, bluish white, despite its apparent, visible warmth.
Incandescent light bulbs have a color temperature of 2,700 K whereas LEDs can go up to 6,500 K — the really bright white LED. In this case, the closer you are to incandescent, the better. Lastly, there’s the digital component, which is virtually unavoidable no matter what. To determine how good or bad a particular LED is:
“You would have to measure somehow if the LED produces flicker or not. Two, three years ago, it would have been much easier because the camera of an older smartphone was not as high-tech equipped as they are today. With an old smartphone camera, when you look into the light source, you can see these wandering lines, so you can detect if the light source is flickering,” Wunsch explains.
A simpler way would be to purchase a flicker detector, which are available fairly inexpensively. Another way to determine the flicker rate would be to use the slow motion mode on your camera. Record the light source in slow motion mode and check it for visible flickering.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Some newer cameras and smartphones have a built in algorithm that will detect the flicker frequency and change the shutter speed accordingly to improve the recording, thereby eliminating the interference. If your camera has this algorithm, it will not record a visible flicker even if it’s there.