Are Ring Lights Bad for Your Eyes?

Ring lights are very bright and are typically positioned directly in front of you. So it’s just normal to get worried about how this kind of exposure will affect your eyes. After all, your retina has light-sensing cells that can become over-stimulated from looking at a bright light.

There is no direct evidence suggesting that ring lights are bad for your eyes. But most ring lights use LED lighting, which produces rapid flickering. LED and its flickering is associated with eye strain and, in cases of intense and prolonged exposure, more serious eye issues and other symptoms.

In this article, we will talk about the kind of lighting ring lights use and what this particular kind of lighting can do to your eyes. We will also share what different people have experienced after using ring lights. We will also include some pointers on how to minimize the adverse effects of ring light usage.

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How Ring Lights Work and Affect Your Eyes

A ring light produces direct light on your face or on a subject to make it more visible when you are shooting indoors while also minimizing shadows. Most of the ring lights now use LED lights, and this type of lighting typically has a softer effect than ring lights that use fluorescent lighting, which produces a bright white light. LED ring lights that are dimmable are also common now.

Nevertheless, both fluorescent and LED lights are sources of blue light, and they also produce rapid flickering. Blue light and flickering can cause headaches, migraines, and visual symptoms. 

What Exposure to LED and Blue Light Does

LED lights are energy-efficient, utilizing only about a fifth of the energy used by an incandescent bulb. This kind of lighting usually produces red, green, amber, or blue light that is converted into white light. The whiter the color of the LED light, the more blue wavelengths it contains. 

Y.I. Rajashekar, an ophthalmologist at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, explains that LED lights affect our eyes to some extent. He clarifies, however, that there aren’t many studies that directly evaluate the effect of LED lights on human eyes, although conclusions can be drawn based on the various studies on the impact of light on the eyes. 

Meanwhile, a French health report wrote that intense exposure to LED blue light could lead to natural sleep disturbances and eye damage. Other data show that blue wavelengths can also help bring about eyestrain and the onset of headaches, migraine attacks, and other symptoms. Eyestrain is characterized by tired and heavy eyes after you focus your eyesight on something for too long.

However, a TheraSpecs article cites experts as clarifying that the findings of this French study do not necessarily extend to regular exposure to lower-brightness sources. But they did warn that the strobe-like flickering produced by some LEDs can lead to visual complications, as well as headaches. 

Another study also found that exposure to blue light can also be harmful to your retina. Moreover, new forms of low-energy lighting like LEDs emit less infrared radiation than incandescent lights but significantly more blue light, suggesting that damaging cumulative exposure could occur.  

Bright Lights and Your Retina

Looking directly at a bright light for a prolonged amount of time can cause damage to your eyes. Your retina has light-sensing cells that get over-stimulated from staring at a bright light, and this over-stimulation causes the cells to release lots of signaling chemicals that could injure the back of your eye.

Lighting Setup Orbit
Lighting Setup Orbit

Blue light is bright light. And compared to warmer light, blue light possesses shorter wavelengths, and therefore more energy. Dr. Rajashekar says that exposure to high-power flashes of shorter wavelengths can result in retinal photothermal damage as reactive oxygen species and radicals are formed in the retinal cells, which leads to a photodynamic effect.

According to Gerstein Eye Institute, blue light can slowly damage your retinas over time. Prolonged exposure to blue light, even at moderate intensity, may also increase the risk of AMD or age-related macular degeneration, which affects the central part of your retina and results in loss of central vision or distortion.

Dr. Rajashekar adds that LED lights can also affect other eye structures like the iris and cornea aside from the retina. Long-term exposure may cause corneal lesions, for instance. 

Effects of Rapid Flickering

Rapid flickering is more pronounced in LED lights than fluorescent lights, especially if we’re talking about brightness levels lower than 100 percent. LEDs would need to produce a flickering motion in order to simulate these dimmer settings. 

Arnold J. Wilkins explains in the Scientific American that LED bulbs flicker hundreds, even thousands, of times per second. That means the flickers are too fast to even be detectable by the naked eye. And this rapid yet undetectable flicker in the lights could cause more headaches than the more obvious, slower flicker.

Exposure to rapid flickering can cause signs of eye movement dysfunction, headache, double vision, dizziness, and other wellness issues.

What Ring Light Users Have To Say

While we already know how LED lights can adversely affect your eyes with prolonged exposure, there is no evidence directly suggesting that ring lights are bad for the eyes. There are also no studies or articles that looked into eye damage caused by ring lights. So, we can only take note of what ring light users have to say about their experience for now.

People who frequently use ring lights also share different experiences. Some say that using a ring light when streaming tires their eyes even if it’s already on the lower brightness level. Others also complain about getting headaches when using a ring light. 

There are also those who say that ring lights being bad for the eyes is nothing but a myth. Regular users of ring lights confirm that these tools are safe for the eyes and are no different from other lights used at home.

However, they emphasize that you should not look directly at the light when using ring lights for videos or photos but instead aim your gaze towards the center of the ring. They also suggest looking away for a few minutes if the light is causing eye strain.

How To Keep Your Eyes Safe From Light Exposure

Regardless of whether ring lights are safe for your eyes or not, it is always best practice never to look directly into the light when you are filming a video or taking a photo. As such, do not place your ring light within your direct line of vision. Instead, try to move it to the side or elevate it a bit more. You should also lower the brightness level.

Others also suggest getting a second light source so you could put one light on each side of your camera for full illumination without having to look straight into the light. You can also set up your light and your camera in such a way that you are not too near your light source. If a wide-angle shot is allowed, it would be nice to go for that instead of a close-up one.

There are also those who suggest turning the brightness up and letting your ring light face the wall so that the light bounces back if your desk is against a white or light-colored wall. As such, the light that gets reflected onto you is already diffused and not too harsh. If your desk is against a dark-colored wall, place something white on it like a posterboard.

It is also imperative that you get your ring lights from reliable manufacturers. This way, you can be sure that quality controls have been carried out and the products are of high quality.

More importantly, always try to limit your exposure to your ring light. If you are recording a video of yourself, you may want to take breaks before resuming your shoot. For example, if you are recording a two-hour video session, you may want to take a few 10-minute breaks throughout. If you are on live, you may want to keep your video short.

For more information, check out if ring lights can overheat.

Final Thoughts

There are no studies that conclusively say ring lights are bad for the eyes. There are also no studies that conclusively say they’re safe. However, it’s been found that LED lights can cause eyestrain and other visual issues. As such, it would be in your best interests to avoid prolonged exposure to the light and to not stare directly into it while shooting. 

Also, harmful or damaging effects to the eyes may occur slowly over time, so you may not want to disregard best practices just because you didn’t feel these effects the first few times you used a ring light. 



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