Bringing healthy lighting to the masses

Following its hugely successful Human Centric Lighting Tour of European cities in 2023, Glamox spoke to Dr. Shelley James – one of the tour’s special guest speakers and an international expert on light and wellbeing – about the importance of light and the lasting impact it can have on our mental and physical wellbeing.

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Dr. Shelley James, a special guest presenter on the tour, is a global expert on light and wellbeing. She is also a trained glass artist, electrician, WELL Advisor, keynote speaker, and Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art. Shelley is on a mission to inspire others to harness the power of light to be healthier, happier and more productive. A recent social media campaign to raise awareness of the impact of light on teenagers was translated into 3 languages and reached over 2.5 million young people globally. Shelley’s TedX talks have also gained her many followers.

An interest in light
At one point in her life, Shelley sustained a traumatic head injury following a cycling accident, leading to extreme photosensitivity. With a neurologist’s help, she retrained her eye-brain connections over 5-6 years. An MA in
printmaking came next, and led to a PhD in ‘Vision and Imaging’ – i.e. the way we process visual. A variety of commissions and collaborations followed, including Collect at the Saatchi Gallery, Science Gallery Dublin, the Medical Research Council and the opportunity to work with Sir Roger Penrose and the Mathematics Institute in Oxford.

"Light became a central part of my creative practice, but technical support for my work was lacking. I therefore returned to college to train as an electrician and a lighting designer. I started working with other artists and scientists to use light in their work".

In 2020, things took an unexpected break when the COVID-19 lockdown hit. “During this period, I was staying with my mother and my nieces in Bridport. It was a real struggle being indoors with badly-wired lightbulbs in their back bedrooms and watching them struggle with depression, gaining weight and bad behaviour,” she explains. It was during this challenging period that Shelley realised that there was a serious lack of information about the effects of poor lighting.

With her brother’s help, Shelley created LunaTM, a series of educational YouTube videos about the right kind of lighting for environments people found themselves in during lockdown. LunaTM then expanded to LunaPro, connecting with professionals across the business chain – from designers and architects, to facilities managers, lighting specifiers and installers. The focus is on the value of investing in good lighting.

“There’s a growing awareness that the people who buy lights and the decisions that are made about lighting for homes and offices where we spend 90% of our lives – as well as the schools, hospitals and care homes where we send our most vulnerable people – have little or no training at all. They tend to buy on price,” Shelley says. “I’ve been collaborating with Glamox for several years now. I like what they do and how they do things. Glamox has a mission that goes beyond commercial success; everyone there is passionate about the power of light to change people’s lives for the better.” 

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Educate, inform, demonstrate

The HCL Europe tour was a huge success, helping to educate the audiences from a variety of markets including healthcare, industrial and education. Each event was geared towards one of these specific markets.

“For Human Centric Lighting – whether or not you agree with the term itself – there is now enough solid scientific evidence to show that lighting which is designed for the visual and non-visual system, is better for the brain and body. HCL can keep the body and brain in better shape, mood, concentration and sleep. There’s enough science and research available to talk confidently about the positive effects of lighting.

HCL is not a lighting product, it’s a solution. If you think about it in an integrated systems approach, which includes lighting controls, there is now reliable global consensus from scientists that light affects us in ways that we didn’t understand until recently. My message here is that any responsible, forward-thinking, success-oriented organisation should include lighting as a key part of their thinking about the spaces they provide for people.”

Meeting the standards

HCL is starting to appear in the lighting standards. For example, the European standard EN 12464-1 for office lighting was updated in 2021.

As Shelley explains: “The standard has increased the light levels that you need to help the body clock stay on track during the day. It doesn’t specifically mention HCL, but the light levels are now at a point where that will be sufficient for circadian entrainment and also enough for older people whose vision is not what it used to be. In building regulations such as BREEAM it recommends that lighting should be installed that mimics the changing light qualities during the day.

There are basically two parts to HCL: the visual dimension, i.e. visual comfort and the ability to change the colour temperature so that it feels comfortable for people depending on their gender, age and so on. Then we have circadian lighting, which is all about regulating the body clock using dynamic lighting. People often use these two terms interchangeably, but they are not quite the same thing."

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“We already knew that the circadian cycle was critical in terms of mood regulation. But brand new evidence in the last few years means the science is now here to back it up. It’s not just about bright light therapy; lighting can also provoke different behaviours and mood swings in people.”

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"With body clock lighting, younger people will predominantly rely on their blue photosensitive cells in the eye to regulate their body clock. But as we get older our eyes don’t take in as much light, in particular, blue light starts to be filtered out by cells in the eye. Dynamic lighting, even though it may not be enough to trigger the non-visual system, lighting that shifts across the course of the day, whether or not it has that circadian system, does seem to improve sleep. If you give your body and brain clear signals about what time of day it is, then it helps them do what they need to do next.”

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HCL is becoming the new norm for some environments.

“There are places where we are starting to see people understand the real value of good lighting. Those people who do buy into it become absolute converts and champions of it”.

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Shelley concludes: “These lighting changes are happening quickly but not always in the places they are needed the most, so the people who need good lighting the most are not actually benefitting. However, I believe in the future that people will become more enlightened about HCL and understand that even small, affordable changes to the lighting can help them run more successful businesses. The role of darkness and proper lighting during the day will become more of the conversation.”




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