Choosing the Right Lighting I – Avoiding Toxic Lights

If you are a painter or an illustrator, one of the most important things in your studio is the lighting. There are the characteristics you would usually associate with studio lights like:

  • light temperature
  • brightness

…but there is another, even more important one:

  • your health

I will start this blog post with the light bulb characteristics all of us should consider, no matter if you are a painter or not, because some light bulbs have the potential to be unhealthy. In my next blog post, I will share my checklist I go through when choosing the lighting for my working environment, where the “correct” recreation of colour is important (for when I am working on an image for example).

The old school light bulb

I used to buy daylight light bulbs like the one shown below. They were really great: They had 60 watts, they emitted a nice neutral light which would not skew your perception of colours, they were cheap and and you could purchase them in every bigger hardware store.

daylight bulb

image source:

The problem is that they have been prohibited by European law because they use too much energy. The alternative is buying energy saving lamps, like the ones a brand called Osram produces and sells. Energy saving lamps are supposed to have a way longer life span (10.000 hours and more), they need less energy and you can safe the planet by the way. Sounds good, right? Not really. And here is why:

Energy saving lamps contain mercury

Mercury [Hg] is an element considered to be toxic. If the lamp breaks in your studio or home the room is instantly filled with mercury gas, which is harmful especially for pregnant women and little children. There is a documentary about this topic called Bulb Fiction (not to be confused with the John Travolta movie 🙂  ). The documentary is in german, and unfortunately I have not found an english version yet, but it accompanies a family with little children who had an energy saving lamp in the children’s room. The lamp broke and months later the child got sick – its hair fell out. The parents could not find a cure for the kid and the documentary strongly suggests a link to the broken energy saving lamp which emitted mercury gas, which penetrated the home’s walls and made the children sick. Since you can’t change your home’s walls the family had to leave their home.

Here is the trailer for this german documentary by Christoph Mayr. Unfortunately, the trailer is only some kind of hint of what’s in the documentary, but I really encourage you to check out the full documentary.

The documentary Bulb Fiction shows the connections of lobbying, misinformation and the influence the industry has when it comes to pushing trough a new law, even if it means that the government suggest using products that are not healthy for you. Maybe I should mention, that one of the driving forces behind the EU prohibition of the old school light bulbs was Osram, which sells – energy saving lamps. What that means is up to you to figure out. 🙂

Beware of Toxic Light Bulbs

In 2008, Heather Jackson and her colleagues from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection conducted a study to evaluate the mercury concentration in the air after the breakage of energy saving bulbs. They found out, that

Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 (…)

Of course the study is a bit dated now, but even if there are better energy saving bulbs with a lower mercury concentration the problem remains present.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not ranting here against any government or brand. Companies have their mechanisms and connections settled in order to optimise profits and governments are tighly interconnected with the industry through monetary flows, this is how the world works. But I do want you to know that not everything promoted to you is the best choice for you, because there might be other reasons that drive information campaigns other than your or the planet’s health. You might get praised stuff, but at the end it is up to you to decide what to do/buy/use and what not.

Feel free to check out this short documentary called “Toxic Light – The Dark Side of Energy Saving Bulbs” below to learn more about poisonous light bulbs:

Or check out this short documentary called “Energiesparlampen sind Gift” (energy saving lamps are poison), which seems to be the original german version of the documentary above:

As you can see in the two documentaries above, energy saving lamps not only contain mercury, but a mix of other poisonous gases (like Phenol, which is a health hazard). Energy saving lamps emit these gases, not only when they break, but also as soon as you turn them on. Check out these two links to jump right to the point inside the english documentary: Engineer Gary Zörner evaluating emited gases and building biologist Wolfgang Maes detecting where gases escape

Furthermore, the documentary shows, that the amount of electrosmog produced by the energy-efficient bulbs is 40 to 70 times higher than a computer working place would be allowed to be. This can lead to neurological and hormonal problems as well as to cell damage.

So, a long story put short:

You don´t want to use energy saving lamps, because even when they are not broken they emit mercury and other toxic gases when they are turned on. The kind of bulbs which contain mercury gas usually look like this:

energy saving bulb which contains mercury, dangerous

energy saving bulb which contains mercury, image source:

Or this:

dangerous energy saving bulb which contains mercury

energy saving bulb which contains mercury, image source:

To be honest, I was very sceptical when I heard for the first time, that energy saving lamps can make you sick. But why run any risks when there is an alternative? You can use LED lamps instead like the one shown below.

image source:

image source:

In my next blog post I will write about the other aspects of light bulbs you should consider when you are choosing the right light for your drawing and painting environment. So stay tuned.

6 responses to “Choosing the Right Lighting I – Avoiding Toxic Lights

  1. I’m not a fan of long life bulbs either, they don’t seem to give the same light. An interesting look at the effect of these bulbs, certainly something to consider.


      • Yes, I don’t know, its like fluorescent light in a way, almost seems to have a slight flicker to it. Might be my imagination, but that’s how the light from those bulbs seems to me.


      • That’s interesting. A friend of mine told me the same thing when we were talking about lights. He also mentioned, that they all together (he and his family) got headache the first days after putting in the new bulbs. I can just tell, that the old ones somehow have a “nicer” feeling to them. For some reason I, too, feel more comfortable and calm when I work with one of the old light bulbs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad I’m not the only one, I’m sure there is something different about the light from these energy saving bulbs, they can indeed give you a headache. The light just seems so harsh. The old style bulbs were much better.


  2. Pingback: Choosing the Right Light II – Colour Temperature and Brightness | I create worlds. John E. Brito's Blog·

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