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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 specific body functions run smoothly.

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

SAD is a type of depression that is more common in the late fall and winter months. Most people who experience it find 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. It also assists the body in absorbing the calcium it needs to maintain 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 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.

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.

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. The skin also uses sunlight to make vitamin D.

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

There is some evidence to support the benefits of light therapy, but scientists are not yet sure whether it works.

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

Experts advise individuals who wish to try light therapy to use only SAD lamps that emit fluorescent light with no UV wavelengths, which 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 speak with a doctor or 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 lamps downward to reduce glare.
  • UV filter: Individuals should look for a lamp with a built-in UV filter and UV-blocking capabilities.

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

The following are five of the best SAD lamps to 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.


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Best overall: Verilux HappyLight Luxe

pricearound $70
dimensionsheight: 11.7 in
width: 7.5 in
depth: 0.5 in
lamp intensity10,000 lux
weight2 pounds (lb)

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

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

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

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
  • uses UV-free light

Cons

  • surface area is smaller than recommended guidelines to treat SAD
  • not adjustable
  • light may be less powerful than other models

The Verilux HappyLight Luxe is available to purchase online.

Best adjustable lux setting: Aura Day Light Lamp

pricearound $140
dimensionsheight: 14 in
width: 8 in
depth: 2 in
lamp intensity3,500–10,000 lux
weightapproximately 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 its design boosts mood and increases concentration, focus, and energy.

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

Pros

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

Cons

  • light reaches 10,000 lux at a short distance
  • bulbs may burn out quickly
  • higher price without significant quality increase
  • not easy portable

The Aura Day Light Lamp is available to purchase online.

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

pricearound $50–200
dimensionsvaries
lamp intensity200 lux
weightvaries

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

The lamps prepare the body for sleep by simulating sunset, gradually decreasing the light and sound in the room. In the morning, the lamps do the same in reverse by simulating sunrise.

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

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

Pros

  • a range of available lamps
  • all lamps feature adjustable brightness levels
  • light gradually increases to mimic sunrise
  • higher-end lamps feature a sunset simulation option to promote sleep
  • the design supports natural waking and sleeping

Cons

  • light intensity of 200 lux does not meet standard SAD treatment level guidelines
  • surface area is less than recommended guidelines
  • difficult to adjust for optimal SAD treatment position
  • nonreplaceable bulb
  • the design supports natural waking and sleeping but not SAD specifically

The Philips SmartSleep Light Therapy Lamp range is available online.

Best bulb life: Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp

pricearound $50
dimensionsheight: 9.5 in
width: 7 in
depth: 2 in
lamp intensity10,000 lux
weight1.69 lb

These lamps do not use UV light. They also come in various designs with an intensity of 10,000 lux. The manufacturer’s design imitates the sun at noon, and a person can adjust the lamp through three brightness levels.

Additionally, rather than fluorescent bulbs, they use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that have a 50,000-hour life. The lamp also comes with a 2-year warranty.

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
  • three levels of brightness
  • produces white color light

Cons

  • surface area is less than recommended guidelines to treat SAD
  • no timer
  • cannot adjust lighting angle
  • short electric cord

The Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp is available online.

Best for vitamin D: Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp

pricearound $750
dimensionsheight: 22 in
width: 12 in
depth: 6 in
lamp intensitynot listed
weight 13 lb

The Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp provides 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. Doctors recommend that people only use it for a few minutes at a time to avoid burns.

Below are some advantages and disadvantages of this lamp.

Pros

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

Cons

  • more expensive than other models
  • brightness is not adjustable
  • produces potentially harmful UVB rays
  • unknown lux levels

The Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamp is available to purchase online.

PriceFeaturesSizeLight
Verilux HappyLight Luxearound $70three color temperaturesheight: 11.7 in
width: 7.5 in
depth: 0.5 in
10,000 lux
Aura Day Light Lamparound $140suitable for wall mountingheight: 14 in
width: 8 in
depth: 2 in
10,000 lux at a short distance
Philips SmartSleep Light Therapy Lamps$50–200light gradually increases to mimic sunrise varying200 lux
Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamparound $50uses LED bulbs that last 50,000 hours height: 9.5 in
width: 7 in
depth: 2 in
10,000 lux
Sperti Vitamin D Sunlamparound $750comes with two pairs of protective eyewear height: 22 in
width: 12 in
depth: 6 in
not listed

Below we look at some common questions relating to 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 only use a SAD lamp under the care of an ophthalmologist.

Do SAD lamps increase your vitamin D levels?

According to a 2017 study, lamps that produce UVB light may help a person’s body produce vitamin D. However, future research is necessary to confirm the findings.

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 beginning treatment.

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, they should look for products that do not use UV light, as this 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 issues 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.