Unfortunately, there is not as much research as one would like to guide the consumer who wishes to try light treatment for SAD. There are many devices which are sold on the Internet which do not appear to have light output specifications that are supported by research in SAD treatment. The FDA does not regulate the sale of light treatment devices for seasonal changes. The consumer should be cautious in purchasing these units. As noted above, prospective patients should be working with clinicians who can offer guidance.
We believe that there is strong research demonstrating that large 10,000 lux light boxes are an effective treatment for SAD. We recently studied 24 light devices sold for the treatment of SAD (Oldham et al, 2019). We believe that such units should meet 3 criteria to be recognized as a suitable bright light box: 1. the device must produce at least 7,5000 lux at a reasonable distance (≥11 inches); 2. The device must produce at least 5,000 lux if the user’s head is moved 5 inches to the left, right, up, or down; 3. The unit must be rated as non-glaring by our volunteer panel, and the light emitting surface must not contain marked “hot spots” of greater intensity.
We requested samples from all manufacturers we could identify selling products in the US or Canada. Some manufacturers did not lend us all of their products, and some manufacturers declined to provide any devices. There are likely devices which meet these specifications which we have not tested by us. Moreover, we attempted to identify devices whose efficacy was supported by clear research. There may be devices which are effective but adequate research has not been completed. For example, perhaps a dimmer unit would be effective if used for a longer duration each day. Failure to be included in this listing does not indicate a product does not meet our specifications or is not an effective treatment for SAD.
We list below 3 large light boxes which meet such criteria. We also list below 3 units which are smaller light boxes but still met our criteria: with a smaller light box the user might have to sit closer and move less to receive adequate light intensity.
We argue that any reputable company should provide clear specifications regarding the distance at which the device produces 10,000 lux. We also argue that the manufacturer should offer at least a 2-month trial period. Four weeks should be long enough to determine if the therapy will work for you, so you can return the device if you are not satisfied with it.
Manufacturers: if you have a device which you believe should be listed on this webpage as a research-proven approach to SAD treatment, please contact us regarding testing your device firstname.lastname@example.org.
Large Light Boxes
Multiple research studies support the use of large light boxes in SAD. These contain fluorescent tubes and emit white-appearing light. They should be used at the distance recommended by the manufacturer to obtain 10,000 lux of intensity. The following devices currently on the market appear to resemble adequately the devices used in research.
This is a large light box, with a light-emitting area measuring 21 1/2“ wide and 11“ tall. According to the manufacturer, it produces 10,000 lux at 24” (close to value verified in our tests). We recommend purchasing the legs, as these allow more convenient use on a table or counter. This device is identified as Device X3 in one of our publications. Ruler is 12 inches in length.
SunRay II ®
This is also a large light box, slightly larger than the unit above, with a light-emitting area of 22“ x 12 1/2“. According to the manufacturer, it produces 10,000 lux at 23“ (close to value found in our tests). This unit as sold includes the legs. This device is identified as Device X1 in one of our publications.
Day-Light Classic (DL930)
This is a somewhat smaller device than the above two devices, with the illuminating section measuring about 16“ by 13“. It is also less bright, but because of its design with tall legs the user can easily sit close enough to get 10,000 lux. It produced 10,900 lux at 12” in our tests. It is Device X4 in one of our publications.
Smaller Light Boxes
In our tests several smaller light boxes appeared to meet the specifications described above. The user will need to sit closer and may not be able to move as much side-to-side. Some users may feel that the decrease in convenience would be offset by the more compact size of the device. There are many small light boxes advertised online which did not meet our specifications. For example, one small light box was advertised as 10,000 lux: in our tests it did so at 7”, which is not realistic for use.
The illuminated area of this device measures 15“ by 12“. The device produced 7,000 lux at approximately 16“ in our tests. The unit includes legs which elevate the device conveniently. The device is labelled as Device X5 in one of our publications.
Day-Light Sky (DL2000)
This is also a smaller device, with a light-emitting area of around 13” x 10”. In our tests it produced 11,000 lux at a distance of 12“. It is built like a desk lamp and could be used as such. It is Device X6 in one of our publications.
SunTouch Plus ®
This is also a smaller device. In our tests the device produced about 10,000 lux at 14”. Users must position themselves carefully to receive 10,000 lux of exposure. It is identified as X11 in one of our publications. The device also contains a negative ion generator which can be used if desired: limited research has been done on the safety and effectiveness of this type of treatment and we have no recommendations for or against this such therapy.
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