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People commonly use sun lamps, also known as SAD lamps, to treat a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). These lamps can also help a person’s body make vitamin D, which helps ensure that specific body functions run smoothly.

A quick look at the best SAD lamps

Doctors sometimes refer to the use of a sun lamp as light therapy. People with SAD commonly use sun lamps or lightboxes to improve their symptoms.

This article discusses what SAD is and how SAD lamps can help. It also lists a range of lamps a person can consider and answers some frequently asked questions about SAD lamps.

SAD is a type of depression that is more common in the late fall and winter months. Most people who experience it find that their symptoms become less severe or even resolve in spring and summer.

Individuals with vitamin D deficiency may also use a SAD lamp. Vitamin D helps the nervous system, muscles, and immune system function correctly and helps the body absorb the calcium necessary for maintaining healthy bones.

Most people receive the vitamin D they need from their diet and the sun. However, those who do not get enough sunlight exposure or who have a health condition that stops their body from absorbing vitamins from food might develop a vitamin D deficiency. This can lead to rickets in children, while adults can develop muscle weakness and bone pain.

Sometimes, people also use SAD lamps to help with sleep disorders or depression.

SAD lamps, also known as sun lamps or light boxes, work by imitating sunlight.

People need sunlight for many reasons. It affects the body’s natural daily cycles, also known as circadian rhythms. These govern how individuals feel and when they go to sleep and wake up.

The skin also uses sunlight to make vitamin D.

Additionally, sunlight helps the brain produce hormones that the body needs to function. Some examples are serotonin, which plays a role in mood, and melatonin, which helps with sleep patterns. According to a 2013 review, sunlight may trigger the production of serotonin through the eyes and skin.

SAD lamps typically show measurements in lux, which refers to the lamp’s luminance level.

For example, doctors might recommend that a person with SAD sit by a lightbox that provides 10,000 lux for 30 minutes each day as soon as possible after waking up.

A person may also use lower lux lights, such as 2,500 lux, for 1–2 hours.

There is some evidence to support the benefits of light therapy, but there is a lack of up-to-date research on this topic.

Additionally, this type of therapy may not suit everyone. People with light sensitivity, bipolar disorder, diabetes, or eye health conditions should avoid this treatment.

Experts advise individuals who wish to try light therapy to use only SAD lamps that emit fluorescent light with no UV wavelengths, as UV light can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer.

However, for people using a SAD lamp to help their skin make vitamin D, UVB light is essential. Anyone considering using a SAD lamp should first consult a healthcare professional.

A person looking for a SAD lamp should consider the following factors:

  • Light intensity: An intensity level of 10,000 lux is part of the standard treatment guidelines for light therapy.
  • Positioning: A person should be able to angle their SAD lamp downward to reduce glare.
  • UV filter: Individuals should look for a lamp with a built-in UV filter and UV-blocking capabilities.
  • Efficiency: Some SAD lamps use replaceable bulbs, while others use LED lights that can last for 50,000 hours. Before making a purchase, a person may wish to consider how energy-efficient their chosen SAD lamp is and how much extra cost new bulbs may require.

Medical News Today chooses SAD lamps that meet the following criteria:

  • Health claims: MNT includes companies that make no questionable health claims.
  • Safety: MNT selects products that emit safe light levels and include UV filters.
  • Price: MNT will choose products that suit a range of budgets.

The following are five of the best SAD lamps a person can consider purchasing.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best overall: Verilux HappyLight Luxe

  • Price: $69.99
  • Dimensions: 11.7 inches (in) height (H) x 7.5 in width (W) x 0.5 in depth (D)
  • Lamp intensity: 10,000 lux
  • Weight: 2 pounds (lb)

Verilux sells a range of HappyLight products, which provide full-spectrum, UV-free light with 10,000-lux intensity.

The company’s HappyLight Luxe is portable and comes with adjustable color temperatures, timers, and a choice of four brightness levels.

People who use the product say it helps improve their mood, sleep patterns, and energy levels.

This lamp may be suitable for a wide range of users, as it offers many features for a reasonably affordable price.

Individuals may consider the following advantages and disadvantages of this lamp:

Pros

  • three color temperatures: 3,000, 4,000, and 5,000 kelvin
  • countdown timer
  • UV-free light

Cons

  • smaller surface area than SAD treatment guidelines recommend
  • not adjustable
  • may be less powerful than other models

The Verilux HappyLight Luxe is available to purchase online for $69.99.

Best adjustable lux setting: Aura Day Light Lamp

  • Price: $139.99
  • Dimensions: 14 in (H) x 8 in (W) x 2 in (D)
  • Lamp intensity: 3,500–10,000 lux
  • Weight: approximately 1 lb

The Aura Day Light Lamp has an adjustable light output and does not use UV light. Individuals can adjust the lux setting from 3,500 to 10,000, depending on their preference.

A person can also mount the lamp to a wall, and it automatically shuts off after use. The manufacturer advises that the lamp’s design can boost mood and increase concentration, focus, and energy.

This lamp may be best suited to people who would like to experiment with the strength of light they need.

Below are some advantages and drawbacks of the Aura Day Light Lamp for a person to consider.

Pros

  • adjustable angle
  • adjustable light intensity
  • UV-free light
  • countdown timer
  • wall-mountable
  • swivel bottom

Cons

  • reaches 10,000 lux at a short distance
  • has bulbs that may burn out quickly
  • comes at a higher price that is unsuitable for smaller budgets
  • not easily portable

The Aura Day Light Lamp is available to purchase online for $139.99.

Best for inducing natural sleep and waking: Philips SmartSleep Light Therapy Lamp range

  • Price: $49.99–199.99
  • Dimensions: vary by model
  • Lamp intensity: 200 lux
  • Weight: varies by model

Philips designed its SmartSleep Sleep and Wake Up lamps to help people who have difficulty getting to sleep or waking up.

Most of the lamps aim to prepare the body for sleep by simulating sunset, gradually decreasing the light in the room. In the morning, the lamps do the reverse, simulating sunrise by gradually increasing the light.

People who use these products say that the lamps help them get to sleep and wake up more naturally, allowing them to feel more energetic during the day.

This product is especially suitable for people who would like a SAD lamp to support their circadian rhythm and improve their sleep.

Individuals may consider the following advantages and disadvantages of this lamp:

Pros

  • a range of available lamps
  • adjustable brightness levels on all lamps
  • light that gradually increases to mimic sunrise
  • design that supports natural waking and sleeping

Cons

  • light intensity of 200 lux, which does not meet standard SAD treatment guidelines
  • smaller surface area than SAD treatment guidelines recommend
  • difficult to adjust for optimal SAD treatment position
  • nonreplaceable bulb
  • on the cheapest model only, no sunset simulation option to promote sleep
  • design that supports natural waking and sleeping but not SAD specifically

The Philips SmartSleep Light Therapy Lamp range is available online for $49.99–199.99, depending on the model.

Best bulb life: Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp

  • Price: $49.99
  • Dimensions: 9.5 in (H) x 7 in (W) x 2 in (D)
  • Lamp intensity: 10,000 lux
  • Weight: 1.69 lb

The company writes that these lamps do not use UV light. They come in various designs with an intensity of 10,000 lux.

The manufacturer writes that this lamp’s design imitates the sun at noon, and a person can adjust the lamp through three brightness levels.

Additionally, rather than fluorescent bulbs, this lamp uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that have a 50,000-hour life.

The lamp comes with a 2-year warranty.

This lamp may be best suited to people who would like to use higher light strengths.

A person may consider the following advantages and drawbacks of the Lumine lamp:

Pros

  • provides 10,000 lux to meet SAD treatment guidelines on brightness
  • does not use UV light
  • uses LED bulbs that last 50,000 hours
  • has three levels of brightness
  • produces white light

Cons

  • smaller surface area than SAD treatment guidelines recommend
  • no timer
  • no option to adjust lighting angle
  • short electric cord

The Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp is available online for $49.99.

Best for vitamin D: Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp

  • Price: $700.24
  • Dimensions: 22 in (H) x 12 in (W) x 6 in (D)
  • Lamp intensity: not listed
  • Weight: 13 lb

The Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp claims to provide the UVB rays that the body needs to make vitamin D.

According to the manufacturer, it is the only product of its type with recognition from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The device also features an adjustable timer and includes two pairs of UV-blocking glasses to protect the eyes during use. According to Sperti, doctors recommend that people use it for only a few minutes at a time to avoid burns.

This product may suit people who would like a SAD lamp to improve their vitamin D levels.

Below are some advantages and disadvantages of this lamp.

Pros

  • reportedly meets recommended surface area guidelines for SAD treatment
  • adjustable timer
  • 1,000-hour bulb life
  • comes with two pairs of protective eyewear

Cons

  • unsuitable for smaller budgets
  • non-adjustable brightness
  • produces potentially harmful UVB rays
  • unspecified lux levels

The Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp is available to purchase online for $700.24.

There are general guidelines for using a SAD lamp to reduce SAD symptoms. A person may consider:

  • sitting in front of the SAD lamp first thing in the morning
  • using a fluorescent light source with a diffusion screen
  • ensuring 30 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux
  • angling the SAD lamp to -30 degrees away from the person’s line of sight
  • sitting 12–24 in away from the SAD lamp
  • not looking directly at the bulb
  • starting to use the SAD lamp in the fall and continuing its use through to spring

PriceFeaturesSizeLight
Verilux HappyLight Luxe$69.99has 3 color temperaturesheight: 11.7 in

width: 7.5 in

depth: 0.5 in
10,000 lux
Aura Day Light Lamp$139.99suitable for wall mountingheight: 14 in

width: 8 in

depth: 2 in
10,000 lux at a short distance
Philips SmartSleep Light Therapy Lamps$49.99–199.99increases light gradually to mimic sunrise varying200 lux
Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp$49.99uses LED bulbs that last 50,000 hours height: 9.5 in

width: 7 in

depth: 2 in
10,000 lux
Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp$700.24comes with two pairs of protective eyewear height: 22 in

width: 12 in

depth: 6 in
not listed

Below are answers to some of the top frequently asked questions about SAD lamps.

Can SAD lamps damage your skin or eyes?

A 2017 review recommends that people who take medications that increase their sensitivity to sunlight or who have medical conditions that have the same effect exercise caution when using SAD lamps.

Additionally, those with cataracts, retinopathy, or glaucoma should use a SAD lamp only under the care of an ophthalmologist.

Do SAD lamps increase your vitamin D levels?

A 2017 study suggests that lamps that produce UVB light may help a person’s body produce vitamin D. However, future research is necessary to learn more.

If a person has concerns that they have a vitamin D deficiency, they should speak with their doctor as soon as possible.

How long does it take for light therapy lamps to start working?

The exact amount of time it takes to see a reduction in SAD symptoms may vary, but research shows that most people begin to experience symptom relief within 7 days of starting treatment.

Do I need a prescription for a SAD lamp?

No. A person can buy a SAD lamp online without a prescription.

A person should speak with a doctor before using a SAD lamp for a health condition.

Are SAD lamps safe?

Doctors generally consider SAD lamps safe. However, certain light wavelengths that some SAD lamps use can increase a person’s risk of cancer. Additionally, people with certain health conditions should not use SAD lamps.

Side effects of light therapy may include eyestrain, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.

A person should speak with a doctor before using a SAD lamp to ensure that it is safe for them.

What are the benefits of SAD lamps?

SAD lamps may imitate the effects of sunlight, including stimulating the production of serotonin. They may also help regulate a person’s circadian rhythm and increase vitamin D production.

However, more research is necessary to explore the benefits of SAD lamps for health.

SAD lamps, which work by imitating the sun, may help some people with SAD, vitamin D deficiency, or sleep issues.

However, individuals should be careful when using these devices. In most cases, people should look for products that do not use UV light, as this type of light can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer.

If a person has a vitamin D deficiency, their skin needs UVB light to make the vitamin. However, in most cases, it is better to get vitamin D from food and natural sunlight than to use a SAD lamp.

It is important to note that light therapy will not work for everyone. Those with light sensitivities, bipolar disorder, diabetes, or eye health conditions should avoid this treatment.

Anyone thinking about using a SAD lamp, especially those who suspect they have a vitamin D deficiency, should speak with a doctor first.