Perhaps you recently caught some rays on the beach, read a book on an electronic tablet or even sat at home watching television. Each of these activities exposed you to visible and invisible light that, for better or worse, has far-reaching implications on your health.
In a nutshell, light rays on the red end of the visible light spectrum have longer wavelengths and, therefore, less energy. Rays on the blue end of the spectrum have shorter wavelengths and more energy, and these rays are often called blue light. In fact, one-third of all visible light is considered high-energy visible (HEV) or “blue” light — a subject that has been put in the spotlight recently because of its health implications.
The Good News About Blue Light
Since white light LED uses blue LED chip combined with yellow-emitting phosphor to create a solid-state light which uses significantly less energy and power than alternative sources of light like incandescent or fluorescent, manufacturers of light bulbs, computer screens and other electronic devices have embraced it.
In addition to its energy efficiency, it’s well documented that some blue light exposure is essential for good health. Research has shown that high-energy visible light boosts alertness, helps memory and cognitive function and elevates mood.
In fact, something called light therapy is used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression with symptoms usually beginning in the fall and continuing through winter. The light sources for this therapy emit bright white light that contains a significant amount of HEV blue light rays.
Also, blue light is very important in regulating circadian rhythm — the body’s natural wakefulness and sleep cycle. Exposure to blue light during daytime hours helps maintain a healthful circadian rhythm.
And Now for the Bad News
While the healthy rays of the sun or other forms of blue light have clear benefits, too much exposure to blue light can cause cause eye damage, as well as disrupt natural sleep cycles.
Since people are increasingly spending more time in front of electronic devices, our eyes, which weren’t made to look at blue light in such close quarters, are being strained. Some studies have shown that too much exposure to blue light can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina, which may lead to long-term problems such as cataracts, snow blindness and macular degeneration, which can lead to permanent vision loss. The problem can be attributed to the fact that short-wavelength, high-energy blue light scatters more easily than other visible light, so it’s not easily focused.
Also, when viewed at night, blue light can affect circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin production more effectively than other visible light. This disrupts sleep patterns, causes insomnia, and has negative long-term health consequences.
Blue light is being recognized for its possible link to cancer as well. According to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives, whose parent agency is the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a study of 2,000 breast or prostate cancer patients and 2,000 controls found that those exposed to high levels of outdoor blue light at night had about a one- and-a-half-fold higher risk of developing breast cancer and a two-fold higher risk of developing prostate cancer, compared with those who were less exposed.
Improving the Blue Light Problems
Despite the inherent concerns of blue light, we continue to rely on it as a source of energy in the environment, as well as within an increasingly digitalized world.
While the blue light in the sun can’t be changed, people can take preventative measures to block its damage. In man-made lighting, however, the industry is working to lessen the negative impact of blue light. One way has been to address biological health by using multiple LEDs (red, green, violet, and multiple blues), however, this results in a significant loss of energy efficiency and is very expensive.
New advances in healthy LED light panels are bringing about solutions that are perfectly in sync with our body’s psychological and biological needs while maintaining high energy efficiency. Visible light can be used for generating image-forming responses, the visual representation of the physical world around us. It also can generate non-image forming response, such as circadian rhythm. In fact, Aurea offers the first energy efficient lighting solution that can be tuned to meet both visual and non-visual needs of human. This is being accomplished by converting (not filtering) commonly used blue LEDs using fluorescent dyes with high quantum efficiency so that it maintains energy efficiency.
As advances in lighting and the ramifications of exposure to blue light continue to evolve, new solutions are addressing the need for greater energy efficiency without jeopardizing the health of people, plants or the environment. Since people will continue to stare at screens or worship the sun, being mindful of the consequences and taking steps to eradicate them is the key to good health.