For those who live in regions that experience long, dark winters, Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) can affect their daily life. Roughly 4 to 6 percent of the population may have “winter depression,” and another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Common symptoms include a drop in energy level, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. The cause? Lack of sunlight.
Since not everyone can move to Phoenix, Miami, or Hawaii to stave off winter sadness, light therapy is a widely used treatment option. “True therapeutic light boxes are primarily used to treat seasonal affective disorder,” says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast from iHeartRadio. “However, therapeutic light boxes can also be used to treat delayed sleep phase disorder and jet lag.”
With so many light boxes on the market, including many that don’t actually deliver therapeutic levels of light, it’s important to do a little research before making a purchase. The best light therapy lamps emit 10,000 lux, the minimum acceptable threshold, according to Dr. Saltz. “Other types of lamps do not treat SAD,” she says.
Read on to discover all the best options across six different categories (all of which offer 10,000 lux).
Carex Day-Light Classic Plus
Provides 10,000 lux from 12 to 14 inches
Doubles as a task light
Large footprint takes up room
Design is more functional than aesthetically pleasing (especially the stand)
The Carex Day-Light Classic Plus meets the criteria established by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics, which means it delivers clinical-strength bright light therapy to help combat winter blues, sleep disorders and feelings of low energy. In fact, it was designed based on university clinical trials. While it may not enhance your home’s décor due to its large size (the large field of illumination — the screen size clocks in at 16x13 inches — helps boost effectiveness) and clinical-looking design, it’ll certainly deliver the therapy you are craving, in the form of 10,000 lux of illumination. Further, the light is projected downwards, which helps mimic the actual sun’s rays while simultaneously minimizing glare.
Speaking of the sun’s rays, this product blocks 99.3 percent of UV rays while still delivering full-spectrum lighting with a calming 4000K color temperature (read: white light, which is ideal for eye safety, unlike colored light). It’s easy to assemble and the height is adjustable, allowing each user to find their optimal positioning.
Hate to spend your money on a product with only one use? That’s not a concern with the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus: When you’re done getting your dose of therapeutic light for the day, simply switch to the task light setting and use it for working, arts and crafts projects, or reading. Plus, the added peace of mind of a five-year warranty is hard to overlook.
Price at time of publish: $120
Dimensions: 12.25 x 15.75 x 28.75 inches | Weight: 9.35 pounds | Brightness Settings: 2 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
Circadian Optics Light Therapy UV-Free LED Desk Lamp
Compact and portable
Bulbs aren’t replaceable
Degree of tilt isn’t adjustable
You have to sit about 6 inches away
Need a mini sun at your fingertips to help brighten your day, but you’re focused on sticking to your budget? The Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp can help regulate sleep, improve mood and focus, and boost your energy, all for an affordable price. It offers three brightness settings at the touch of a button, to help dial in your perfect dose of therapeutic light, which are designed to mimic the colors of daylight (5,500K color temperature).
This UV-free, LED light should be placed about 5.5 to 6.5 inches away from your face (according to the manual, this is how you achieve 10,000 lux) and the brand suggests 15 to 60 minutes of use every morning. We especially love the matte gray finish design of this bright light therapy lamp, which helps make this product look more like a sleek picture frame than a lamp with health benefits.
Price at time of publish: $43
Dimensions: 6.69 x 3.94 x 6.3 inches | Weight: 1 pound | Brightness Settings: 3 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
Alaska Northern Lights Aurora LightPad Mini
10,000 lux at 25-inch distance
Compact, travel-friendly 1 pound weight
No timer feature, but it does automatically shut off after one hour
As this brand’s name might suggest, Alaska Northern Lights was founded in Homer Alaska, a city that knows a thing or two about the need for supplemental light considering it doesn’t get many hours of daylight in the winter. And its Aurora LightPad Mini bright light therapy lamp is the portable solution you can use at home or on the road (the AC adapter is worldwide compatible for 110 to 240v).
If you’re yearning for a medical-grade light therapy solution to treat SAD, insomnia and depression, but not exactly jazzed about how limiting it is having to sit so close to a light source, this product offers a surprisingly large distance range for such a small product. In fact, you can benefit from the full power of this light therapy from just over 2 feet away — and with a fully adjustable stand that features 13 different angle options, you can really make this lamp to adapt to your environment and lifestyle. You’d be hard-pressed to find a brighter and more compact option on the market. Additionally, while it does run more expensive, the expected 20-year lifespan makes this light therapy lamp full of value and long-term durability.
Price at time of publish: $200
Dimensions: 1 x 7.5 x 5.25 inches | Weight: 1 pound | Brightness Settings: 3 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
Best Floor Lamp
Verilux HappyLight Duo
Gooseneck with adjustable height
Converts to a task light
Only comes with a one-year warranty
Limited to one color (white)
Plenty of people looking for the best light therapy lamps want something more substantial than a handheld or desktop option, which is why the Verilux HappyLight Duo is such a smart addition to this brand’s lineup. Not only does it deliver UV-free, full-spectrum LED at 10,000 lux, but it also has a flexible gooseneck head that offers 15 inches of vertical height adjustment. This can come in especially handy when using it as a task light, making this two-in-one design brilliant.
This flicker-free lamp has a special lens to help control glare, thus reducing the risk of eye strain. Want a little more control over the light you receive? This model comes with three temperature settings and five brightness settings to help control your therapy levels or set the mood. And at less than 10 pounds, it wouldn’t be unheard of to bring this lamp with you as you move about your day: using it in bed or on the couch in the morning when it’s time for your therapy and then at your desk as a task lamp when it’s time to work.
Price at time of publish: $130
Dimensions: 10 x 10 x 45.3 to 61 inches | Weight: 9.9 pounds | Brightness Settings: 5 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
OttLite ClearSun LED Light Therapy Lamp
Can be used horizontally or vertically
Three brightness levels up to 10,000 lux
No USB charging option
May need to elevate it for maximum exposure to your face, since it’s so small
It’s nice to have options, like the ability to position your SAD light therapy lamp either horizontally or vertically — and thanks to the wooden stand on the OttLite ClearSun LED Light Therapy Lamp, you can do just that. But those aren’t your only options for customization, as this lamp also offers three levels of brightness that deliver natural daylight into your home. Though it’s compact, you can add light up to 10,000 lux into your space as needed.
OttLite has thought of everything with this design, including a frosted diffuser to minimize glare so you don’t need to shield your eyes. And with such a small footprint, it works well in the home or office right next to your laptop or even in a dorm room without much space to spare. The proprietary LEDs closely replicate the sun’s natural light spectrum, so you won’t feel as though you’re enduring harsh illumination.
Price at time of publish: $60
Dimensions: 6 x 7.875 inches | Weight: 1.28 pounds | Brightness Settings: 3 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
Northern Light Technologies Boxelite
10,000 lux up to 14 inches away
Quality metal construction
Only one setting
No tilt options or customization
Some of the best light therapy lamps are purely functional, but the Northern Light Technologies Boxelite takes things a step further by also being sleek and unassuming. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s a lamp, but don’t be fooled — this light box is extremely effective. It delivers 10,000 lux at a range of 14 inches, so you’ll always be at a comfortable distance while getting maximum benefits.
This full-spectrum, UV-free light comes with an 8-foot cord for convenience and is built to last thanks to its metal construction. And because of its larger size, your entire face will be illuminated, including your eyes (which is crucial to combating SAD and circadian rhythm issues). While you can’t tilt or adjust the angle of this light, it still offers plenty of intensity and delivers on its promises, which makes it a standout compared to weaker lights with lower intensity.
Price at time of publish: $190
Dimensions: 18.5 x 12 x 2.5 inches | Weight: 8 pounds | Brightness Settings: 1 | Light Intensity (Lux): 10,000
When you’re in the market for the best light therapy lamps, don’t get overwhelmed by the options. There are only a few products on the market that actually deliver therapeutic results (read: 10,000 lux), and these are the ones you should focus on. If you’re looking to try one out and aren’t ready to commit with a large budget, then choose the Circadian Optics Light Therapy Lamp, which has thousands of great reviews for less than $40. Want to take your therapy lamp on the road to help with jet lag or wintery destinations? Look at the small-in-stature-but-big-on-results Alaska Northern Lights Aurora LightPad. And you can’t go wrong with our top pick, the multi-purpose Carex Day-Light Classic Plus, for its adjustable features, ability to be used as a task lamp, and middle-of-the-road price point.
What to Look for in a Light Therapy Lamp
The first thing to determine is if the lamp emits 10,000 lux, which is the minimum acceptable threshold to be considered therapeutic. Once you’ve eliminated any options that don’t measure up, it really comes down to price point and aesthetics. There’s a high-quality light therapy lamp for every budget, so choose one that’s affordable. And if looks are important to your décor, opt for one that’s a bit more sleek and slim, and not bulky or medical-looking. Finally, consider the additional features — such as multiple intensity settings, adjustable angles, and timers — perks that make things more convenient, but aren’t a necessity.
How do you use a light therapy lamp?
First, you’ll want to place the lamp on a stable surface, such as a desk or table, in a location where you can sit or stand for the duration of your therapy session. “Your light therapy lamp should usually be positioned one to two feet from your face,” says Dr. Saltz. “Don’t stare directly at the light. Rather, have your eyes open looking elsewhere with the light shining onto your face.” She recommends using a bright light therapy lamp every morning upon awakening for somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes — be sure to set a timer, as most models don’t come with that feature.
What type of lamp is best for light therapy?
When it comes to choosing the best light therapy lamps, Dr. Saltz says to focus on a broad-spectrum white light that does not have any of the UV bands that are harmful (read: could cause sunburn or harm to the eye). Next, she says to make sure it’s truly a “therapeutic” lamp and not just a marketing term the brand uses to lure in customers. “Many brands make something they call therapeutic, but it’s actually not,” she says. “It may be too weak, or not fuller spectrum, and it won’t work.” Look for a that says it provides 10,000 lux at 12 inches to 24 inches — make sure it’s clear that you can have it close enough to deliver this strength to your eyes for 15-30 minutes.
Can you overdo light therapy?
As with anything in the wellness space, extremes can lead to unfavorable results. You can certainly overdo SAD light therapy lamp usage, which is why it’s best left for morning use. “Light is energizing, and it can keep you up at night,” says Dr. Saltz. If you’re experiencing eye strain, sleep disturbances, or insomnia, those may be signs to reduce your usage.
Who should not use a bright light therapy lamp?
“Light therapy can make a person who has bipolar disorder manic,” says Dr. Saltz, explaining that it's important to know that your depression is linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that happens annually. “You need to know that you do not have this depression as part of bipolar disorder. If the depression is clearly seasonal, then light therapy can be very effective.” Once you know you have seasonal depression, she says you can start light therapy preventatively in the fall before your symptoms appear.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Freelance commerce contributor Jill Schildhouse has been writing about health and wellness for more than 20 years. She has a particular affinity for covering technology at the intersection of this space, and loves testing new bio-hacking products on the market. She’s based in Phoenix, where the sun is almost always shining, but grew up in the Midwest and remembers just how long and dark the winters felt.