SCIENCE SAYS: Your Lamp Is Giving You Skin Cancer

We can save either the environment or our hides. Awesome.
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We can save either the environment or our hides. Awesome.

You know those cute, twisty compact fluorescent lightbulbs that everyone's been switching over to? Of course you do--you're alive. You may even live in one of the states that's proposed bills to phase out incandescent lightbulbs, like New Jersey, where Thomas Edison died. WAY TO KICK HIM WHILE HE'S DOWN, JERSEY.

As you probably know, these helical CFL bulbs are increasingly favored because they use a lot less electrical power than incandescent bulbs and last way longer, which is why they're often referred to as "energy-saving" lightbulbs.

Well, you know what they're not saving? YOUR SKIN. Why is there always a catch?

Totally overreacting. The bulb is harmless when it isn't plugged in.

Totally overreacting. The bulb is harmless when it isn't plugged in.

A Stony Brook University study released earlier this year and thrust promptly under the radar found that CFL bulbs and lamps emit surprisingly high levels of UV radiation. You know, the same radiation that can damage your skin to the point of burning it, making it look older, and/or giving it cancer.

One of the researchers told a CBS affiliate that they "could actually initiate cell death." You know it's bad when a scientist says "actually."

But it gets scarier.

"Skin cell damage was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles were introduced to the skin cells prior to exposure,” researcher Miriam Rafailovich, PhD, stated. In other words, when mineral (physical) sunscreen--specifically the titanium dioxide kind--was applied to skin before being exposed to compact fluorescent light, more havoc was wreaked. (They didn't test the effects with chemical sunscreens.)

That was a nonissue with incandescent bulbs.

So, what's a non-Amish person to do? Pretty much nothing.

The industry organization behind CFL bulbs, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), says that as long as you stand more than a foot away from the bulbs, you'll be fine. The farther away you are from the bulb, the better.

"There are also CFL bulbs available today that contain a cover that will reduce any UV emissions compared to uncovered spiral types," their statement said. Unfortunately, the statement didn't say where the hell to find those.

Ultimately, it's just one of those trade-offs we have to accept and make the best of as environmental priorities evolve and scientific discoveries are made. Kind of a bummer, right?

For now, the FDA has a page dedicated to safe CFL usage, so check it out if reading this made you nervous. Hopefully, as science keeps getting sciencier, an option that's as health-conscious as it is eco-conscious will present itself.