Lamp Analysis Tells Sad Truth Behind The Marketing Hype

Here in the northern hemisphere, winter has wrapped us in her monochromatic prison. A solid deck of gray clouds means you need a clock to tell the difference between night and day, and by about the first week of February, it gets to feeling like you’ll never see a blue sky again. It’s depressing, to be honest, and the lack of sunlight can even lead to a mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

SAD therapy is deceptively simple — bright full-spectrum light, and lots of it, to simulate the sun and stimulate the lizard brain within us. Not surprisingly, such lights are available commercially, but when [Justin Lam] bought one to help with his Vancouver blues, he decided to analyze the lamp’s output to determine whether the $70 he spent paid for therapy or marketing.

The initial teardown was not encouraging, with what appeared to be a standard CFL “curly fry” light with a proprietary base in a fancy plastic enclosure. With access to a spectrometer, [Justin] confirmed that not only does the SAD light have exactly the same spectrum as a regular CFL, the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards. In short, he found that the lamp was $70 worth of marketing wrapped around a $1.50 CFL. Caveat emptor.

Hats off to [Justin] for revealing the truth behind the hype, and here’s hoping he finds a way to ameliorate his current SAD situation. Perhaps one of these DIY lamps will be effective without the gouging.

57 thoughts on “Lamp Analysis Tells Sad Truth Behind The Marketing Hype

      1. This winter I decided to bring in my last surviving jalapeno plant to see if I could save it for next spring. When picking a light I read loads of wank about needing special lighting in order to provide the right spectrum for the plant. I ended up using white COB leds from eBay after checking them with a diffraction grating. All the white LEDs I looked at had nearly complete coverage from red to violet and the plant has been loving it (it even flowered last week).

    1. According to the spectrometer, he did buy a daylight bulb from any big box store. He just paid through the nose for one with branding and medical woo connected to it. Quack medical devices have been going strong for over a hundred years, and they show no sign of stopping any time soon.

  1. CFL’s are now at the far end of the lighting isle or down on the bottom row or two.

    I just bought 4 9watt warm LED’s for $6 and change at Wall-mart. With 5 sockets from one of those broken pole lamps with 5 goosenecks (go to drum mic setup) saved, those sockets are now on the surface of a former single bulb 40watt florescent fixture (obsolete), grounded box at that. So to-nite down came the 4 bulb 40watt fixture of years. The 5 LED’s screw into the box and one more blast of lumin takes on the gloom, less glare on my screens than before. This is augmented by two cold white double arm task lights.

    The cheapest way will be what ever sells the most, so a lot of screw base type lights spread out will be cheaper than a nice big panel light. At the 60watt equivalent size the thermal mass seems OK, the 100watt-eq are not any bigger in thermal size so must run hotter. This limited by the familiar size of a “light bulb” and the fixtures to hold them, which I find to be the choice to use lots of 60watt-eq.

    To-nite in that lighting isle I saw a giant step backwards in LED’s and marketing. Glass LED’s not those fake carbon era bulbs but a glass frosted envelope that goes to the base, no thermal radiator, looks just like a real bulb. I just hope the same marketing effect don’t make the unbreakable plastic lights hard – expensive to find. The best light for a trouble light ever.

    1. The thing about all the LED filament style bulbs in regular glass envelopes, the’ll probably outlast any other LED or CFL bulb. The problem with CFLs and now LEDs has always been the complex ballast or driver circuit. That part is far more likely to fail before the CFL or LEDs ever do. These filament style LED bulbs have no driver circuit, There’s enough LEDs in the string to directly drive them right off the 120/230v AC line. At most they have a resistor to limit he current. As long as the LEDs aren’t crap and or being over driven they’ll probably last damn near forever.

      The driver circuits are a reason I don’t get this whole move to LED street lighting that is going on now. Sure the LEDs will probably last forever, but the driver circuit will most likely fail before a decade passes. Sodium vapor, Mercury Vapor, and Metal Halide lighting was already pretty damn energy efficient, and far simpler. Magnetic ballasts rarely fail and the bulbs will easily last a decade and are far cheaper and easier to replace than a driver circuit

      1. I’ll bet five bucks it has that bogus blurb about how it’s not meant to treat or cure any disease even though that’s obviously its intended and sole purpose. Something ought to be done about that, you can get around the FDA with a tiny bit of fine print on the packaging and that’s not good.

  2. They make “daylight” incandescent bulbs for sewing machinists, for some reason or other. They look like ordinary old bulbs with a sort of blue tinge. Definitely I’d think incandescent would have a better spectrum.

    I dunno how much real research there is into SAD. Is this bulb-in-a-box sold as an actual medical device? I know in some countries you can make very medical-sounding claims that technically are a razor’s edge away from actually being medical claims. Is SAD a real recognised disorder? Perhaps that’s something to do with why you can sell bullshit “cures” like this.

    Anyway… maybe our dude should go for walks at lunchtime, when the sun’s strongest. A nice walk and some fresh air will cheer your mood up. Better than staring at a lightbulb.

    1. SAD (seasonal effective disorder) is a well known and verified medical disorder, actual lamps made for treatment run into the multi thousands of dollars though – it’s in a sort related to the lack of sunlight causing you body to not absorb vitamin D properly

      suprisingly it seems like a good many lights for this are basically tanning lamps in a smaller scale – i personally use one of those super un-safe 60’s mercury vapor tanning lamps, works a treat and they’re relatively cheep on ebay

        1. That isn’t what the study say. One thing that immediately stands out for me is the mention of depression while most that feel down in the winter aren’t classified as depressed. The comparison with Norway (while just mentioned in passing) is also suspect given that there are other non-compensated factors that can influence the measurements including food sources and even the criteria for being considered depressed.

          And marketing have nothing to do with this.

    2. The technique is irrelevant, to say ‘incandescent is better’ is silly because it sounds like you are comparing a standard bulb with a standard CFL, and both would fail in the intended use. And while incandescent is known to have a flatter wider spectrum it’s 90% in the IR range and so the whole point becomes pointless.

      And talking of which, I know ikea now sells grow lights and I think those are LED, so why not throw LED in the mix too.
      And frankly, I’m amazed nobody mentions LED (even if in a negative sense), I feel like I traveled back in time here.

      1. LEDs have a slightly wider chromatic range than an average laser. Extremely narrow. They specify them in nanometres, for flip’s sake! And you can buy LEDs in colours that only vary by 20nm or so. If you want full-spectrum, LEDs are not what you’re looking for.

    3. i like the idea of making the most of available sunlight, but sometimes it really is cloudy for weeks at a time and you literally can’t even tell where the sun is if you go outside and look up. :(

    1. Problem with lamps that get really hot especially when it comes to neophytes is safety. LEDs are pretty safe, as well as CFLs. Regular bulbs are middle of the road depending upon wattage.

    2. +1 Halogen Lamps – it’s what I personally use. Though lately I have a TP-Link colour LED bulb or two that can hit the right colour temperature just fine – mind you their cheaper lights seem to be okay too.

      1. The colour of RGB sources is illusory. It’s like looking at something yellow on your monitor, there is no yellow light given off by monitors. Red + green does not “make” yellow, colours don’t “mix”. But red and green light in the same place stimulate the human visual system in the same way yellow light does. But real yellow is a wavelength between red and green.

        LEDs have narrow spectrums. I don’t know if that actually matters for SAD or not, but real white sunlight, and the “white” you get from a monitor or RGB LED bulb, are very different. If the relevant body parts involved in SAD can tell the difference, then it won’t work.

  3. SAD is real and problematic for many people. The Luminette 2 wearable and the SADelite desk lamp are effective for SAD. They are more expensive than the PoS presented in this article, but they work. The daylight bulbs used by the gardeners here may also work, but may require more time sitting close to them to be effective. I have no vested interest in these products. I bought them and they alleviated my seasonal problem.

    1. Citation needed that those products mentioned actually works. And your testimony isn’t enough (just as mine wouldn’t be) given the strong placebo effect which can’t even be blinded* in this case.

      (* unless one stares into the light that is – most professionals think the light should be strong enough that directly looking into it can cause at least temporary damage to the eyes=

    2. Yeah this is completely anecdotal. Sorry, but you really can’t instinctively tell when medicine is working, even on yourself. Nobody can. That’s why such carefully controlled testing is necessary.

  4. There is a lot of speaking out of sh*tholes here about SAD. I am a physician who has SAD. I use several lights, including a verilux, with considerable improvement in symptoms, sustained for years, when I use my lights enough. 1)SAD is a real disorder. 2)Although many small studies have evaluated different spectral components, no specific spectral component is clearly more effective than broad-spectrum, and no study has been done that could possibly make the statement that absolute fidelity to daylight is necessary. The only treatment shown to be effective in a high quality trial is 10,000 lux for 30 minutes a day. This is called “bright light therapy”. How specific wavelengths affect human function is an active area of research and is fascinating. There are lots of claims, but few large trials yet. The mechanism of SAD is unknown, and is unlikely to have much to do with vitamin D metabolism, which requires skin exposure to bright light, which SAD therapy does not. There are lots of ways to get 10,000 lux to your eyes for 30 minutes a day. Sitting with your face turned toward the sun on a cloudy day will do it, as will sitting within a foot of the verilux, or many other similar products, which use either LED’s or flourescent lamps. I’ve not seen SAD lights which cost thousands of dollars. The big ones, one of which I am sitting in front of right now, cost hundreds (I think the one in front of me still runs about $250, dirt cheap given the impact on my life). Their advantage is they allow you a little more distance than 12 inches and still deliver the 10,000 lux. A safety concern when you are staring at light bulbs is UV emission, this is why manufacturers make this claim, it’s critical to the eye health of the end user.

    The reason for this long post is 1)if you are going to make statements about a disease, please make them reasonably informed. 2)if you are going to make statements about a treatment, please don’t exaggerate the cost or barriers to treatment. These 2 errors can harm people with SAD and other mood disorders, by increasing the apparent difficulty of seeking treatment.

    Lastly, the premise of this article is that the light can’t possibly be effective, because it’s expensive repackaging of something cheap. 30 seconds of reading the Wikipedia article on SAD or light therapy might have helped the poster realize that actually, effective therapy of SAD, a very common and disabling disorder, can be achieved with a light bulb.

    1. You maybe should re-read the text given that you didn’t read it right the first time. You are ranting about things that aren’t there, implications that aren’t the and claims that – guess what – aren’t there.

      Bought a light myself for ~$25 LED based with more than enough lux with the right spectrum of light (LED sources are easier to classify given that a manufacturer already sorts them according to wavelenght). Yes, it needn’t be expensive.

      But really you just look delusional when writing things like this…

    2. What a lot of text to say essentially nothing. No tangible studies or evidence, just anecdotes. A real physician would feel shame about presenting a diatribe like that. And you don’t even address the issue that if any normal CFL bulb will work, how is it ethical to mark one up seven thousand percent to take advantage of suffering sick people? Doesn’t that harm people with SAD?

  5. This review is not objective. Someone seems to be disappointed. While not being the best, this CFL costs more than 1,50USD, IMHO.
    BTW, serious CFLs come with the spectrum and/or other measured values printed on the package/datasheet. Don’t buy anything that does not provide the information that you want. It’s that simple.

    1. The particular one in this product might not cost $1.50 due to it’s fancy silkscreen and connectors (just a way to get you to buy another bulb through them rather than at a hardware store), but the article suggests that it operates just like a $1.50 CFL.

  6. Just FYI, from the picture next to “the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards.” you can see that the diffuser, besides dimming the light output a bit, filters out almost all of the UV…… (the bump in the UV (left side) now looks completely flat).

    1. Right, the small bump of UV that he measures is gone. But he bearly even measures UV an sill makes claims about it. Wikipedia says visible light starts at 380 nm. He only measures to 350 nm. That’s just a tiny bit of the UV spectrum.

  7. Let me be clear that I have no reason to doubt that SAD is an actual, organic disorder that negatively impacts some people even if the mechanism is as yet unknown. I tend to think the evidence for bright light therapy is pretty good, and if I started feeling symptoms of SAD I’d probably be far more inclined to try sitting in front of a honking bright light before popping some damn pills to make me feel better. I’d just be a bit pissed if I paid $70 for what amounts to a CFL bulb with an unusual base and a cheap neutral-density filter. Really, I’d rather spend that same money on a decent LED worklight that I’d be able to use for projects and for therapy. Multitasking FTW.

    TL;DR: The point of [Justin]’s article was not that SAD doesn;t exist, or that SAD therapy lamps are some kind of snake oil. It’s just that this one is a bit expensive for what you get.

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