Are Reptile UV Lights Safe For Humans? Do They Cause Cancer?

Oct 4, 2021

Are Reptile UV Lights Safe For Humans

Credits: Fahad on Flickr under Creative Commons license

UV rays are necessary for both baby and adult turtles. Baby turtles need them for healthy development, and adults need them to maintain their shell health. Lack of adequate UV rays results in shell rots and respiratory infections.

But do UV rays have any health implications for us? Are these reptile UV lights too detrimental to our health? What are the consequences?

Let’s find out! 

Are Reptile UV Lights Safe For Humans?

Occasional or little exposure to reptile UV lights isn’t that harmful to humans. However, if your workstation or bed is near the turtle’s basking area, you are exposing yourself to harmful UV rays. That being said, modern UV lights emit UVB rays with shorter wavelengths – thus, they don’t really harm humans.

What Are The Potential Risks Of Reptile UV Lights On Humans?

There are several potential risks of reptile UV lights on humans. First, if you are exposed for a prolonged period, it can cause faster aging of your skin and burn skin tissues. Second, worst-case scenario – you can get skin cancer – although the chances are slim. 

These UV lights emit radiation just like the sun. So, in a sense, it is the same as tanning.

There are two types of Ultraviolet rays UV lights emit:

Ultraviolet A

These rays have longer wavelengths and cannot be seen by our naked eyes. However, turtles can see it. More extended periods of exposure to UVA rays cause faster aging of the skin and premature wrinkles.

Ultraviolet B

Also known as the UVB, these rays have a shorter wavelength, invisible to our naked eyes. Exposure to UVB rays will burn your skin.

Though these rays do more harm than good to us, your turtles need both of them. But it is also found that extended exposure to these rays can burn the turtle’s shell. 

Ultraviolet C

The UVC is present in sun rays and is harmful to both reptiles and humans. Good news – reptile UV lights don’t emit UVC rays.

Does UV Radiation From Reptile UV Lights Cause Cancer In Humans?

It is unlikely to get cancer from Reptile UV lights because they aren’t as powerful as other radioactive devices like X-Ray Machines. However, as I mentioned earlier, we cannot rule out the chance 100% in case of persistent exposure.

Medical reports have revealed that UV radiation causes basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma. These are the cancer types that damage skin exposed to UV lights.

Too much exposure to UV lights causes sunburn. And our body will try to counter this by repairing tissues—they do this by growing cells in the sunburnt area.

And when these cells grow out of control, melanocytes develop, causing skin cancer, i.e., melanoma.

But you need not worry because early detection with follow-up treatment can cure most forms of cancer.

Exposure to reptile UV lights poses little to no threat of building this type of cancer in your body. That being said, the extent of damage from these rays also depends upon the duration of the contact. 

However, newer studies have found that damage from UV rays is cumulative. So if you have been tinkering every day with your reptile UV light, you might put yourself at risk of getting skin cancer.

Do Reptile UV Lights Cause Eye Damage?

Yes, exposure to reptile UV lights can damage our eyes – causing short-term and long-term vision problems. UV rays can pass through our cornea and damage the retina – leading to cataracts and photokeratitis.

The chances of the handler getting cancer from reptile UV lights are minuscule. However, the same cannot be said about the effects of these lights on your eye. Be it short-term, overexposure to UV rays will strain your eyes and cause blurriness. Furthermore, the cumulative effects of this exposure can lead to cataracts and photokeratitis.

Can You Get Tan From Using Reptile UV Lights?

Exposure to UV lights stimulates melanin production in our body, which makes skin darker and tanned. But reptile UV lights can only target small areas at once – so they will not emit enough UV rays to get you a whole-body tan.

Also, reptile UV lights have UVB rays, shorter in wavelength, which do more harm than good for human skin. Some people are allergic to UV lights and will experience instant rashes and burns. 

So, perhaps it isn’t the wisest of decisions to get tanned using reptile UV lights.

Is It Bad To Leave The Reptile Lamp On 24/7?

Just like humans, reptiles need rest too. So you should keep the lights on during the daytime and turn them off during the night. Overexposure can cause hypercalcemia—too much calcium deposit in a reptile’s body. Pyramiding in turtles results from hypercalcemia.

Along with UV rays, reptile lamps emit heat too. And leaving them on 24/7 will burn your turtle’s skin. Too much heat exposure will dry your turtle’s skin and results in poor shell health.

How To Be Safe While Using Reptile UV Lights?

Credits: Dana Lane on Flickr under Creative Commons license

Safety should be your primary concern. Be mindful about things like the lamp’s placement, operation hours, and direct contact. 

Here’s how you can keep yourself and your pet reptile safe while using reptile UV lights.

Right Placement

Utmost priority should be given to the UV lights’ placement. Do not keep them too close to your reptile’s basking area. This can cause skin burns. 

And you shouldn’t put them too far either. Otherwise, it will defeat its purpose. So, proper placement is necessary.

Also, for your own safety, keep them at a distance from your work desk or bed. This way, you will be safe from the UV rays.

Turn Them On Only During Day

Reptiles need rest during nighttime. So you should keep these lights on only during the day.

Several other UV light hazards can occur at nighttime when you’re sleeping away peacefully. For example, the light may fall or burst – injuring your turtle. Am I too paranoid?

Another reason to turn them off at night is to elongate the bulb’s life. 

Do Not Gaze Directly Into These UV Lights

Aquariums and terrariums are irresistible for anyone to look away. Sometimes, we catch ourselves staring at these lights continuously for no apparent reason. However, gazing for a longer duration can cause vision problems – even serious ones.

So, you need to control yourself while admiring the beauty that you have in your house. Watch it from a distance, and even if you do, make sure you do not look directly into the basking area and the UV source for more than a few seconds.

Our Recommendation For Basking Light For Your Pet Turtle 

I recently switched from the classic two-bulb setup to a single-bulb setup that emits UVA and UVB lights single-handedly. It has definitely saved me some space and made the basking area more elegant. 

At first, I was hesitant about using mercury vapor bulbs because I’d heard tales of them randomly bursting. Although skeptical, I gave one from Evergreen Pet Supplies a chance, and boy, am I pleased! 

Here’s an Amazon link if you’re interested:

What I liked about this bulb:

  • Thousands of 5-star reviews on Amazon
  • Compatible with many enclosures 
  • Each bulb goes through a 3-step quality test

Final Say On Are Reptile UV Lights Safe For Humans

Although UV lights are beneficial to reptiles, they can cause harm to a handler’s body if exposed for a more extended period. These lights emit UVB rays, which are harmful to humans as it causes a rapid build-up of melanin in our body. Along with skin damage, light emitting from reptile UV lights also causes short-term and long-term vision problems. 

Do not gaze directly into the UV lights and keep your distance from the UV lights. Turn them off during the night to avoid any electrical mishaps in the dark. Follow these simple pieces of advice, and you will be safe from reptile UV lights in your room.

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.