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When fall and winter roll around, good moods always seem to be a little harder to come by. The day gets shorter and the weather gets colder, so we spend less time outside in the sun — and that can actually make a big difference in the way we feel. It’s called the winter blues for a reason, after all!
But whether you've been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or you’re just suffering from general malaise, there are ways to boost your mood when the seasons change.
A light therapy lamp provides artificial light that mimics natural daylight, helping stimulate serotonin production, and lifting your spirits even when the weather’s bleak.
Finding the right therapy lamp is key for effective results, though, because not all models are the same. It’s important to choose a lamp with the right intensity, size, and other features if you want it to see a real difference in the way you feel.
At BestReviews, we don’t accept products from manufacturers, so our recommendations are completely unbiased. We conducted field research and consulted with our expert, Lauren, a licensed naturopathic physician, to get to the know the top light therapy lamps inside and out.
Our goal is to help you make a truly educated shopping decision!
If you’re ready to buy a light therapy lamp, take a look at the matrix above for our top recommendations.
For general info on shopping for a light therapy lamp, continue reading our shopping guide.
Dr. Lauren Tessier is a licensed Naturopathic Physician, specializing in functional and integrative medicine. She takes great joy in helping motivated patients find their path to health through education and empowerment. Dr. Tessier is also the founder of Life After Mold, a clinic specializing in the treatment of mold and other biotoxin illnesses.
Light therapy lamps are often recommended for individuals who experience some type of seasonal depression.
The main type is SAD, a form of clinical depression with symptoms that typically start sometime between September and January, and go away when the days become longer in April or May.
Symptoms typically include sadness, moodiness, fatigue, weight gain, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Nearly 10.8 million people in North America suffer from SAD.
Approximately 75% of people who experience SAD or the winter blues are women.
If you experience a milder form of seasonal depression, it’s informally known as the “winter blues.” The symptoms are similar to SAD but less severe. Up to 25% of people in northern latitudes suffer from some type of winter blues.
Approximately 75% of people who experience SAD or the winter blues are women. SAD usually starts when you’re in your early 20s, but it can begin as soon as puberty.
It’s also believed to be a genetic condition, so if your family members experience the condition, you’re likely to as well.
In addition to SAD and the winter blues, light therapy lamps can also help treat jet lag, sleep disorders, non-seasonal depression, and even dementia.
Beyond being used for depression and seasonal affective disorders, light therapy lamps can be used in circadian disturbances and sleep disorders.
Light therapy usually involves a box or lamp with fluorescent lights that simulate natural outdoor light. The light typically has a minimum intensity of 2,500 lux, which is the same intensity as a somewhat overcast day.
To use the light, you place the lamp on a surface near where you are sitting, making sure to aim it at your eyes. You shouldn’t stare directly into the light, though; it’s best to position the lamp so it shines down at your eyes from a slightly elevated angle.
The light from the lamp hits your retina, and nerve impulses are transmitted to the pineal gland to enhance the effectiveness of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which can help boost your mood. You should sit near the light for anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours to see results.
Users often experience results from light therapy in 2 to 4 days, though you usually need up to 3 weeks of treatment for the full benefits.
The first artificial light source used for therapeutic reasons was developed by Dr. Niels Finsen, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1903.
Light therapy lamps come in a variety of sizes, which range from small, tabletop models to larger, box style lamps.
Choosing the right size is mostly a matter of preference. Some users don’t like big, bulky box styles, but those with larger surface areas usually mean better exposure for your eyes.
If you choose a light therapy lamp that’s too small, it may not be as effective.
To see the effects of light therapy, consistency is most important. Use your lamp daily, from the beginning of fall through winter, to ensure it’s as effective as possible.
A light therapy lamp’s intensity is the main factor in predicting effectiveness. The intensity of the light in measured in a unit called lux, which describes how brightly the light is perceived by the human eye.
Light therapy lights usually fall within a range of 2,500 to 10,000 lux.
For reference, the average rating of home lighting is 50 lux.
When it comes to light therapy lamps, the most common mistake is buying a light that isn’t intense enough. Our expert Lauren mentions, “I see people buying lights that are not powerful enough. 10,000 lux is suggested for the quickest treatment.”
More intense lights usually have a higher price tag, but your treatment sessions will be shorter.
With a 10,000 lux lamp, you usually only need a 15 to 30 minute session daily.
With an 8000 lux lamp, try for a 45 to 60 minute session every day.
With a 2500 lux lamp, your daily sessions should be 1 to 2 hours.
Nearly 10.8 million people in North America suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Some light therapy lamps utilize full spectrum light, while others feature broad spectrum light.
Full spectrum light features wavelengths rangeing from infrared to near-ultra violet, so they tend to have a bluish light. Broad spectrum light doesn’t contain UV rays and is whitish in color.
Either type of light can work in a therapy lamp, but as our expert Lauren cautions, “If a full spectrum bulb is used, make sure that UV light is being filtered out.” That’s because UV rays can burn and damage the skin, which is a side effect no one wants from their therapy lamp.
It usually takes two to four days to see results from light therapy, and up to three weeks may be required to see the full benefits.
It isn’t an essential feature, but a built-in timer on your light therapy lamp can come in handy.
The timer can keep track of how long your sessions are, so you don’t necessarily have to time it yourself.
If your doctor wants precise numbers tracking the time you spend with the light, the timer also makes it easier to provide accurate records.
If you’re considering using a light therapy lamp, it’s best to talk with your doctor first about whether it’s a good option for you. Your doctor can also help you plan an effective treatment schedule.
Light therapy lamps vary in price based on their intensity and size, but you can usually expect to pay between $30 and $200.
For a small, 2,500 lux lamp, you can typically expect to spend between $30 and $40.
For a small, 7,500 to 8,000 lux lamp, expect to pay between $45 and $65. For a larger lamp with 7,500 to 8,000 lux, you’ll usually pay between $70 and $90.
Small, 10,000 lux lamps cost between $75 and $100, while larger 10,000 lux lamps run between $100 and $200.
To see results, you must sit facing the lamp. Perpendicular orientation to the lamp doesn’t suffice. You can do other activities while undergoing light therapy, but your orientation to the lamp is important.
If you’re considering using a light therapy lamp, talk with your doctor first to confirm it’s a good option for you.
It’s best to use a light therapy lamp in the morning. Start with 20 to 30 minutes to see if it improves your mood. If you don’t feel the effects, increase your time to up to an hour each morning.
You should place your light therapy lamp so it’s approximately two feet from your eyes. If your lamp is weaker, such as a 2,500 lux model, you may need to sit closer to it.
To see the effects of light therapy, consistency is most important. Use your lamp daily from the beginning of fall through winter to ensure that it’s as effective as possible.
You shouldn’t use a light therapy lamp if you’re taking medication that makes you more sensitive to the sun, such as lithium, melatonin, acne medications like isotretinoin, and certain antibiotics.
Q. Are there side effects to using a light therapy lamp?
A. Side effects from using a light therapy lamp are usually minor. However, some users can experience headaches, anxiety, and jitteriness when first using the lamp. The side effects usually go away after a few days, but you can reduce the chance of experiencing them by starting with shorter sessions. If you have an eye disease or other vision issues, you should consult with an eye doctor before using the lamp.
Q. Can you get a similar effect with brighter light bulbs in your home as you would with a light therapy lamp?
A. Using bright light bulbs in lamps and other fixtures around your house won’t provide the same effect as a light therapy lamp. That’s because you must be positioned at the proper distance and orientation from the light to experience the therapeutic benefits, and it’s usually not possible to stay in front of non-therapy fixtures in the proper position for the necessary amount of time.
Q. Do you stare into the light therapy lamp to receive the benefits?
A. No. In fact, you shouldn’t stare directly into the lamp’s light, because it may cause cornea or retina damage. The lamp should actually be positioned so it shines down at you from a slightly elevated spot.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.