Effects and mechanisms of action of light-emitting diodes on the human retina and internal clock

Environ Res. 2020 Nov:190:109942. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109942. Epub 2020 Jul 19.


White light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will likely become the most used lighting devices worldwide in the future because of their very low prices over the course of their long lifespans which can be up to several tens of thousands of hours. The expansion of LED use in both urban and domestic lighting has prompted questions regarding their possible health effects, because the light that they provide is potentially high in the harmful blue band (400-500 nm) of the visible light spectrum. Research on the potential effects of LEDs and their blue band on human health has followed three main directions: 1) examining their retinal phototoxicity; 2) examining disruption of the internal clock, i.e., an out-of-sync clock, in shift workers and night workers, including the accompanying health issues, most concerningly an increased relative risk of cancer; and 3) examining risky, inappropriate late-night use of smartphones and consoles among children and adolescents. Here, we document the recognized or potential health issues associated with LED lighting together with their underlying mechanisms of action. There is so far no evidence that LED lighting is deleterious to human retina under normal use. However, exposure to artificial light at night is a new source of pollution because it affects the circadian clock. Blue-rich light, including cold white LEDs, should be considered a new endocrine disruptor, because it affects estrogen secretion and has unhealthful consequences in women, as demonstrated to occur via a complex mechanism.

Keywords: Biological clock; Blue light; Electronic media; Endocrine disruptor; Environmental synchronizers; Light at night; Melatonin; Night work; Retinal phototoxicity; Shift work; Sleep disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lighting*
  • Retina*