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August 2017

LED and its Possible Health Effects – Part 1

A recently-published report concludes that LED lamps and displays appear to pose no direct adverse health effects among the general healthy population. However, it found that gaps exist in our understanding of potential LED health hazards, and other population groups may be at risk. For example, exposure to LEDs and other lights in the late evening affect our circadian rhythm. LEDs may also have specific effects on young children and the elderly.

Among its findings, the review conducted by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks noted that:

  • Children are more sensitive to blue light. Moreover, although emissions may not be harmful, blue LEDs (between 400 nm and 500 nm) may induce photochemical retinopathy. This is a concern, especially for children under three years of age.
  • Elderly people may experience discomfort with exposure to LED systems, including blue LED displays. For example, destination displays on the front of buses may appear blurred.
  • Reliable information on the dose-response relationship for adverse health effects among the healthy general public is not available for all wavelengths emitted by LEDs.

Below is a summary, as well as recommendations for additional research. Both have been slightly edited. The purpose of the review was to assess potential health hazards associated with LED emissions in the general population due to LED usage.

Eyes and skin are the most susceptible target organs for effects due to optical radiation, and action spectra also exist for effects on the skin and eyes. The type of effect, injury thresholds, and damage mechanisms vary significantly according to the wavelength. There are several variables to take into account when referring to the effects of optical radiation from LEDs on human health:

  • Spectrum of an LED light source
  • Lighting intensity, especially in the blue part of the spectrum
  • Duration of exposure
  • Exposure level of the eyes or skin
  • Eye or skin health
  • Direct staring without deviation versus active eye movement

Several safety standards govern the specific safety requirements and risk assessment methods regarding photobiological hazards. In order to assess the potential health hazards associated with LEDs, it is necessary to take into account all exposure parameters:

  • The irradiance (the flux of optical radiation that reaches a target, distance dependent)
  • The radiance (radiation flux leaving the source depending on emission angle, independent of distance to target)
  • The duration of exposure

We are exposed to optical radiation from a range of sources including different LEDs in any given 24-hour period. For many people, exposure to natural optical radiation will predominate. In other words, exposure to optical radiation from LEDs is likely to be insignificant compared to the exposure to outdoor natural light.

Potential Health Effects of LEDs on the General Population

Published studies show that the blue light-weighted (for eyes) radiance from screens is less than 10% of the blue light photochemical retinal hazard limit, assuming that viewing is greater than approximately 3 hours (acute exposure).

A search for literature on long-term impacts of LED emissions on human health did not result in any studies because the technology is too new on the general population market. Because the technology is still evolving, it is important to continue monitoring ongoing scientific literature.

The review concludes that available scientific research does not provide evidence for health hazards to the eyes or skin associated with LEDs when total exposure is below the international agreed exposure limits (ICNIRP). However, issues in terms of flicker, dazzle, distraction and glare may occur.

More Information

Read Part 2 of this article to learn more about the research results on the effects of LED lamps on general health, on the eyes and as well as on the circadian system.

This article was built on excerpts taken from the article Literature Review Gives LEDs Qualified Pass on Possible Health Effects published by Lighting Design & Specification on August 3rd. Read the full article to learn more about potential health effects of particular LED sources (toys, car lights), the effect on the eyes and the skin and as well as on the circadian system.

Read the entire report on work conducted by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks:

Read the entire report