Light Therapy Lamp Box Reviews: My Top Picks and Why
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is one of the most prevalent and undiagnosed medical conditions in the world. The amount of light our bodies are exposed to really does affect our mental health and physical well-being. If you're reading this, then chances are you're trying to find the best and most effective SAD therapy lamp for your dollar.
I live in a beautiful city in western Canada. I love living here, but we don't get nearly the amount of sunshine some of our southern neighbours do. The long winters really take a toll on one's body, both physically and mentally. If you live in a similar situation, a seasonal affective disorder light therapy lamp is something I can't recommend highly enough.
I have written this article in order to review a few of the lamps on the market. I'm going to take into account:
- the effectiveness of the light itself
- the features involved
- the size
- the price.
Hopefully this will save you some of the legwork needed to research products and demystify the technology.
How These Lamps Affect Your Therapy
I'm going to get into the reviews in just a moment. First, I wanted to touch on the technology you'll find in these things, and how that can affect you.
- Bulb type. Not all therapy boxes use the same type of bulb. Traditionally, the most common type of bulb is either incandescent or fluorescent, but lately light emitting diode (LED) bulbs have become very popular. Ultimately it's the quality of light you should worry about, and all three can be excellent, though some are more energy efficient (more on that in the reviews).
- Brightness. There are different schools of thought when it comes to brightness. Obviously the idea is to mimic the sunlight you're missing out on, but different products have varying brightness. It's something to consider, especially if you're sensitive to brightness.
- Blue or white light. Most SAD therapy lamps use a white light, but there are a fair few that use blue instead. Both can be effective, and it really depends on the lamp in particular and your preferences.
NatureBright: Affordable & Popular
This fluorescent and portable lamp by NatureBright is a good entry point into the positive benefits of a seasonal affective disorder lamp. It offers a lot of features at a very reasonable price point. It's by no means the most potent or powerful one I'm reviewing here, but it does the job well and it's one I recommend to newcomers.
- It offers 10,000 lux worth of light, but it's filtered to remove harmful ultraviolet wavelengths, and it's a lot easier to handle the brightness from this lamp than some of the more powerful models out there.
- As mentioned, it's also fairly portable. It won't really fit in a suitcase or a drawer, but it's not as bulky as some of the bigger models. Also, it's extremely stable, so you don't have to worry about some flimsy stand.
- It comes with a built-in timer that ranges from 15 minutes to an hour, so you'll get just the right amount of exposure.
- This lamp is perfect for sitting by the makeup stand or on the counter in the morning during breakfast.
- The quality is a light blue that's meant to mimic natural light on a clear day.
This is a great and affordable lamp for newbies.
Carex Day-Light: Versatile Treatment
Here is an example of a powerful SAD light therapy box by Carex. This is a very bright and potent lamp, and the light quality is exceptional. I particularly like the included stand, which is perfect for use while you work on the computer or laptop, so you can stay productive while you bask, making it great for both home or office use.
- This lamp uses three strong fluorescent light tubes that are flicker-free. They have a built-in ultraviolet filter that renders them safe for long periods of use. It can provide 10,000 lux worth of sun quality light, and it even mimics the angle you'd experience while outdoors, which is important. The brightness is quite strong, and can take some getting used to. That being said, it's great for conquering SAD symptoms in a short period of time.
- It also has a variable setting that lets you shut off some of the bulbs for a lower brightness.
- While it's small and lightweight, I wouldn't consider it portable. The box itself is around 21 inches wide, with the lamp being roughly the same size as a small computer monitor.
- It comes with an included stand to lift it up high and let you work.
- I should warn you, this lamp shouldn't be run all day. It does get rather hot, so it's not intended for all-day use. To reap the health benefits, you really only need to have it running for between 15 and 30 minutes anyway.
This is a great lamp with fantastic reviews, definitely worth a look.
Northern Lights: A Full System
Sometimes the fiddly little tabletop style lamps just aren't practical for your home. This is a full-fledged SAD therapy box that's cleverly built to also serve as a floor lamp. It is absolutely perfect next to your couch or a cozy chair for reading while you do your therapy. Or you can have it in the office to use while you work. It's a great multi-purpose lamp, basically.
- I really like this model because it's difficult to find a SAD therapy lamp that's also reasonably attractive. The only thing that really deviates from standard floor lamp design is the oversized fixture box. In attractive and modern black color, it looks great in almost any setting.
- The fixture itself is fully UV-blocked, and it provides the standard 10k lux that most lamps in this class muster. It is very bright, but the quality is very pleasant and warm, mimicking natural light very effectively.
- It uses fluorescent tubes, and for that reason it uses very little electricity for the amount of light produced. It's about the same as running a 45 watt incandescent bulb for energy consumption.
There's definitely something to be said for sitting under a light like this: You will feel warm and happy in no time. Also, with a 7-year warranty, you know it will last a long time. Check it out.
Caribbean Sun: An Energy Efficient Option
I wanted to include an example of a more powerful LED SAD therapy light box, and this model by Caribbean Sun is a great one. Again, it doesn't use traditional bulbs; instead, it relies on a bank of tiny light emitting diodes that provide exceptional brightness and quality while using very little energy and producing almost no heat.
- It's great for general desk use.
- The upshot is that this is a very safe and efficient box to be running for long periods of time.
- The combination of LEDs provides around 10k lux of bright, cool white light. Also, like the others, there is an effective UV filter to make sure it's healthy for prolonged use.
- Despite the power and potency, this one is quite portable and easy to travel with. You can carry it from home to work and back easily in your briefcase. Because LEDs are quite robust, this lamp is very durable and far less fragile than its fluorescent competitors.
- It weighs a total of 3 pounds, with a steel construction. The power draw is tiny: this light is equivalent to a 9-watt bulb.
Light Therapy for SAD Poll:
Additional Tips and Warnings:
I'm glad that you're interested in SAD therapy and the benefits of a light box like the ones I've listed here. You should be aware of how to use them, though. I'd encourage you to consult with your doctor or naturopath about the benefits and issues involved, it can be eye-opening.
Here are a few more tips that I hope will help:
- I would be careful to avoid overuse. Obviously everyone is different, but be aware that light like this can profoundly affect your circadian rhythms and thus your sleep. Sometimes it's a huge benefit, but overuse can confuse your body's biological clock. I don't recommend going over an hour per day, but consult your physician for their expert opinion.
- Be aware of both heat and electrical draw, especially on traditional bulb. Fluorescent and incandescent bulbs can get really hot! They also draw a fair bit of juice, so don't leave it running all day long.
- Blue light isn't for everyone. I'd probably start out with white light and see how you go. Blue can cause eye strain for some people.
- Keep your lamp close. You should be within 2 feet of the light for best effect. If it's too far away you'll lose a lot of the benefits.
Lastly, be conscious of the fact that not all brands and manufacturers are the same. There isn't any hard and fast regulation specifying what must be included, so be sure that the light you're getting is of decent quality and specifically designated for seasonal affective disorder (not merely just any day lamp).
Thanks for reading, and good luck!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions or Comments? Discuss Them Here.
Sarey from MT again on November 10, 2015:
Hello again. I looked up the Nature Bright lamp that you recommended - on Amazon - and looked at customer reviews. There are two customers who seem to be quite science savvy who report that the lamp not only doesn't produce ions, but that it produces ozone in quantities that exceed max levels recommended by the EPA, the FDA, and OSHA. The poster who measured the ozone output with a meter, describes the health effects he found described on the web like this: "Devices that produce ozone, it says, can decrease lung function, aggravate asthma, and cause throat irritation and cough, chest pain and shortness of breath, inflammation of lung tissue, and higher susceptibility to lung infection." He says risk level thresholds from the orgs listed above are 0.08 parts per million (EPA); 0.05 parts per million (FDA); and 0.10 parts per million (OSHA). The amount he describes finding with an ozone meter near the lamp is "0.209 parts per million within 10-15 minutes." Do you want to rethink your recommendation or do you have other info? Thanks.
Sarey Sebern on November 05, 2015:
At the recommendation of my doctor and my counselor -- with whom I agree -- I'm looking for an affordable, reliable light therapy lamp. I was considering the Verilux HappyLight device which is available from Costco online. I belong to Costco and am usually very satisfied with their products. Is this a lamp you would find acceptable, or would you recommend against it? Sarey from MT
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on September 17, 2015:
Hi Patricia. SAD therapy can help with circadian rhythms, sleep patterns and seasonal depression, all of which are good for the brain, so it may help. I'm not qualified to speak to its efficacy with confusion or dementia, however, so be aware that's just my opinion.
Patricia on August 31, 2015:
Can anyone tell me would Sad therapy light help my elderly mother , aged 91 as she get quite confused from 6pm on?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on March 30, 2015:
Hi CinBirmingham, I'd go for the Caribbean Sun Box. It's small enough that you can bring it to work with you, and the LEDs are economical to run all day. :)
CinBirmingham on March 07, 2015:
Thanks for a great article! My issue is that I am about to start a new job where there are no windows to let in any natural light. It is an 8 am to 5 pm job so I'll only get about an hour of sunlight each day when I go out for lunch. The last time I had a job situation like this I felt blue and lacked energy. Which light would you recommend? I would think I would need one that stays on all day? Thank you!!!!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 12, 2015:
Hi LL, the Caribbean Sun Box is a great one for sure!
You can get it directly from their website (caribsun dot com) and I know they ship anywhere in the world, or Amazon should ship it to Canada, though the shipping costs will be a bit higher.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 12, 2015:
Hi lillysara, I don't know much about using an operating light as light therapy. I'd recommend sticking with SAD devices because that's what they're purpose built for! You shouldn't look directly into the light (it is very bright), you just bask in it, like you would sunlight on a nice sunny day. It's best done while reading, doing a hobby, that sort of thing. I find they're best when angled towards you rather than overhead.
Tampa Mom on January 07, 2015:
thank you so much for writing this article. My daughter is in college in Massachusetts and after her first semester we discovered that she was suffering from seasonal affective disorder. thank you for providing several options. Of course we had to go with something that was capable of fitting in a very tiny dorm room. We have ordered the lamp to be delivered to her on top of her mountain and we are hoping for the best. Thanks again for the information.
LL on December 30, 2014:
Hi! Really appreciate the info and reviews. My doctor has suggested light therapy for sleep problems and low mood. After reading your helpful article and looking into lamps online I find the Caribbean Sun Box with its 10 year warranty to be a top contender. I don't see it for sale in Canada though, any suggestions?
lillysara on December 25, 2014:
hi, I would like to know your opinion on using an operating light (used in surgeries) as a light therapy devise. I´m looking into opening an indoor beach with light therapy for the benefit of those suffering from SAD but for the elderly as well. Should a person look into the light or could she/he benefit from the light if it is suspended over the head or at least angled towards the person?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on December 22, 2014:
Hi Cathy, so you both want to use the SAD light at the same time? I don't recommend that. They're best used if you're quite close to the light source, so I'd buy one and take turns, or buy two. For portability, my favourite is the Caribbean Sun Box.
cathy adduci on December 19, 2014:
I'm looking for a light portable that both of us can sit near it. We would like the best possible SAD lite. What would u recommend im so confused to many choices.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on December 01, 2014:
SAD is largely a perception thing. Your brain's perception of light conditions regulates many of your biological processes. If you can't see it, you won't be fully affected by it. For that reason, I don't recommend having it under your desk.
Blindedbythelight on December 01, 2014:
Hey is this something I can have under my desk on my legs or does it have to be on my face? Skin is skin right? Thanks =D
Ana Koulouris from Chicago, IL on November 23, 2014:
Thanks for writing this hub, Will! I've been considering looking into Light Therapy and you've answered a lot of my questions. Very helpful!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on November 02, 2014:
Hi Jillene, do you mean the Therapy Box? It's fantastic, and almost made this list, and yeah it's very bright. It's nice to have it a little further away. It's a big unit though, so make sure you have the storage space!
Jillene on November 02, 2014:
I am looking for a big light, like the Carex or the Flamingo. Have you looked at the Alaska northern lights. They have one that is 10,000 lux at 24 inches instead of 12 inches. I just wondered what you thought. I'm counting on you and will choose from your reccomendations!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on October 29, 2014:
Hi Veronica, yes I'm a big fan of the Phillips wake-up light. It isn't a full-on SAD light, but it's a great way to wake up in the dark winter months!
Veronica on October 26, 2014:
Great review! And, especially helpful since we are moving into darker hours. Have you ever used any that are similar to the Phillips wake up light? I like the idea of having a light simulate the sunrise before reaching full intensity to bask in it for a while.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on July 28, 2014:
Unfortunately, I've yet to find a truly portable unit that can match the power of a full-sized. The Caribbean Sun is my primary recommendation if portability is important to you, it's quite small. If I run across something better, I will update this post.
Andrew on June 24, 2014:
Great article! Very clear and useful. I really like that you included an example of a more powerful LED light therapy light, because that seems exactly what I need: I need a lightbox that is portable and durable, so I'd prefer LED; but, I've found the Litebook Elite and similar devices to be much less effective than full-size lightboxes.
Besides Caribbean Sun, are there any other more powerful, but still portable, LED light boxes that you would recommend? Thanks so much!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 05, 2014:
Hi NorthernMom, yes I've had experience with this exact light before! I didn't include it because it wouldn't make the top 5 for me. It's not a bad light by any means, and the portability is a nice thing. It has 10,000 lumens (I believe), so it's bright enough. The built in alarm / timer is a nice feature. I guess I just prefer the Litebook a bit more as portable SAD lights go. I hope that helps!
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 05, 2014:
Hi Sue, good questions! I do believe that light from devices / TV can disrupt sleep and cause insomnia. I don't think they are a proper substitute for a SAD light, however. There are particular light qualities that your body picks up on as intrinsically daylight that a SAD light is specifically designed to replicate. I do think that these lights must be incorporated into a daily routine, ideally used in the morning or early afternoon.
Sue on January 05, 2014:
I'm feeling a little less SAD since I've been using an ipad this year. Could an ipad substitute for a light box? This is such a complex topic because too much blue light can also be quite bad for humans. What if depression is being caused by sleeplessness and light at the wrong time of day ...technology. Tablets use LED blue light and in fact can disrupt sleep. Now that incandescent bulbs are replaced by LEDs and CFLs, will SAD be less of an issue as people receive more blue light or more because circadian rhythms are interrupted?
NorthernMom on January 02, 2014:
Could you comment on the Philips goLite BLU Energy light? I am new to light therapy and that is the light that I have easiest access to.
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on January 02, 2014:
Allyson: Can you clarify what you mean by regular size? You mean non-handheld, correct?
Ruby: Thanks! That's gratifying to hear!
Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on December 30, 2013:
I like your review on SAD light therapy lamps. Very helpful. I am sure I would benefit greatly from some sort of one. Your article had some great points so I can better decide.
Allyson on December 30, 2013:
How much is the cost of a regular sized SAD Lamp? Economy price?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on December 29, 2013:
Hi Arlow, good question! The HappyLite nearly made the list, actually, I just happened to like the 5 listed here a tiny bit more. Nothing wrong with Verilux at all, they've got some great products.
Arlow Farrell on December 27, 2013:
Any reason you skipped all the verilux products on amazon?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on December 20, 2013:
Personally, I would not! It messes with your body's circadian rhythm. Your body runs on cues that are mostly timed by when it receives daylight. For example, your body starts releasing natural melatonin in the evening, which tells your system that sleep is on the way. If you use your SAD light at that time, it will confuse things, and you might end up sleepless.
I'd use your SAD light in the morning or throughout the day. Early evening is probably fine, just avoid use after say 8pm.
Beth5496 on December 20, 2013:
Is there a specific time of day that you should use a light therapy lamp? Can I use it at night?
Will Henry (author) from British Columbia on November 23, 2013:
Hi Sad Eyes,
I have never heard of or experienced that before, but it's entirely possible. Personally I don't look directly into the SAD light, I 'bask' in it and enjoy the light indirectly. If it's really bothering you I'd definitely ask your coworker to refrain from using it.
Sad eyes on November 23, 2013:
No one seems to mention potential eye pain w/ SAD light therapy. My co-worker had a lamp on her desk for just a couple of hours, so I was ~ 4 ft from it. My eyes were burning so bad that night that I had to take Tylenol to sleep. Surely I'm not the only one to experience that effect.