In recent decades, Americans have become increasingly reliant on LED lights for their energy needs.
LED home lighting exploded from fewer than 400,000 installations in 2009 to 202 million in 2016. Experts expect these figures to continue to climb. By 2035, some anticipate most lighting installations will use LED technology.
While LED lighting booms in popularity, new research casts doubt on its safety — especially in regards to eye health and sleep. These findings have caused consumers to ask the question: are LED lights safe for personal use?
LED lighting is a way of creating light through a light-emitting diode. The light-emitting diode (LED) acts as a semiconductor that energy passes through. When enough energy moves through the LED, it produces visible light.
Before becoming a popular light source, consumer brands like General Electric used LED technology to power small electronic devices. Decades later, LEDs would become a staple for consumer and commercial use.
Today, we use LED technology in everything from home and public lighting to creating pixels for flat-screen televisions and mobile devices.
LED lights are a cheaper and more energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs. Incandescent lights release most of the energy they take in as heat — only 10% gets converted into light.
The LED’s electronic current allows the bulb to conserve energy and last up to 30 times longer than its incandescent competitor.
Here are a few more advantages of LED lighting:
LED light bulbs are up to 90% more energy-efficient than incandescent lights.
Because they convert less energy to heat, LEDs are cooler and safer to use.
LED lights are smaller, more durable, and work better in hot and cold conditions than traditional light bulbs.
LED lights have advantages for both commercial and personal use, but new research brings up concerns over the effects LED exposure has on our eyes.
A 2019 report by The French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) found the blue light emitted from LEDs can harm the human eye.
Blue light, common in LED devices, has a phototoxic effect. This means repeated exposure can make our skin and eyes extremely sensitive to light.
The ANSES report also linked LED lighting to retinal damage. It revealed that long-term exposure to LED lights can lead to the early onset of macular degeneration — a condition where the loss of retinal cells causes deterioration of central vision.
Prolonged exposure to LEDs can also cause blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, and risks of accidents.
In addition to phototoxicity and retinal damage, LED lighting affects sleep quality. The ANSES report found exposure to blue light from LEDs, especially during the evening, disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm and can lead to sleep problems.
These issues occur because blue light inhibits the synthesis of melatonin — the sleep-promoting hormone in our brains. When the brain stops producing melatonin, it becomes difficult to fall and stay asleep, and enjoy a high-quality restful night.
This is cause for concern, as scientists have connected poor sleep with several serious health issues. These include high blood pressure, diabetes — which increases the risk of glaucoma — and heart problems.
The findings in the ANSES report have led questions whether LED lights are safe. While there are legitimate concerns about the safety of LED technology, there are reasons to remain optimistic.
According to the ANSES report, not all types of LED light pose the same risk. The study highlights the difference between “white warm blue light” used in home LED lighting, and “high-intensity blue light” found in car headlights and high-intensity flashlights.
The white warm LED light used in most consumer products was found to be significantly less phototoxic than its high-intensity counterpart.
Additionally, researchers conducted their work for the ANSES report and similar studies in a lab environment. LED exposure in the real world doesn’t appear to pose the same threat as it does in a controlled lab setting.
If you or someone you know has a family history of macular degeneration or is concerned that LED lights are not safe for your eyes, there are several ways to minimize risks:
These specialty lenses reduce blue light exposure by blocking the light that comes from your computer screen and tablets. They’re affordable and available in a variety of locations.
Most home devices that use LED light such as smartphones, tablets, or televisions allow you to adjust the lighting. When possible, adjust the display setting to a lower level. Some devices even have a Preferences setting to automatically switch to "warmer" light during the evening.
Limiting screen time minimizes exposure to blue light from LED devices. While reliance on screens varies on one’s personal and professional circumstances, look for ways to reduce time spent on mobile and electronic devices, especially during the evening when LEDs can disrupt sleep patterns.
Warm white LED lights minimize many of the eye-related concerns involving blue light. They are available to purchase at most major retail outlets.
The concerns about whether LED lights are safe for your eye are real, but people have options to minimize risk and protect their eyes while continuing to enjoy the many benefits LED lighting and technology provide.
Creating awareness around sports-related eye injuries will help you and your family’s vision stay safe year-round, but it’s especially important over the warm months. Here’s why.
Celebrate World Sight Day with the Besser Eye Team’s top tips for better vision and eye health.