Vitamin D (UVB) experiment and lamp comparison

I decided to look into vitamin D / UVB lamps after receiving a blood test with low vitamin D levels in spite of supplementation (learn how I tested my levels). I expected there'd be a few standard, affordable solutions, but was surprised at both the cost and complexity of comparing different options. I compared the products below and tried several experiments using Exo Terra's reptile bulbs for frugality's sake.

Experiment results

I was surprised at how intense the treatments needed to be to budge my vitamin D levels.

Each of the experiments below was performed for about a month.

Experiments that failed to raise my levels

The experiment that finally worked for me

I used 3 Exo Terra UVB200 bulbs as close as I could practically get them to my body for 90 minutes daily. I bought them off eBay because they seem to be the cheapest source. However, buying from random sellers makes me a little concerned about quality / counterfeiting issues, especially on a product that already carries some risk.

I let the bulbs warm up for 5-10 minutes before use because I think their spectrum changes in the beginning.

My bloodwork suggests this regimen raises my vitamin D by ~2ng/mL per 30 days, and that's with my very pale skin. That isn't anything amazing, but it seems like it'll be a good way of managing my levels if I decide to accept the risks of the UV exposure.

After seeing how many bulbs were required to raise my levels, I'm not sure my approach of trying to save money by using reptile bulbs makes sense. I spent about $80 total, which isn't much cheaper than something like the RayMinder 1 below.

Safety issues

There are definitely risks to this kind of UV exposure, and I'm definitely not suggesting anyone try it. I tried to mitigate any damage with the tools below, but I'm unsure about whether I'll continue the sessions long term:

Why not just increase supplement dosage?

I suspect there are benefits to the process of your body creating its own vitamin D that aren't captured in supplements. However, I will probably return to using supplements for some or all of my vitamin D after seeing the intense sessions required.

Would SAD lamps have helped?

SAD lamps are legally required to have no UV output, so they can't be used for this purpose.

Products I looked at

Least-expensive products

There are several reptile bulbs that are probably good at creating vitamin D. They're inexpensive, work in standard fixtures, and have a nice peak around 311nm in the spectrum. However, they have some downsides:

I chose Exo Terra's UVB200 bulbs for my experiments because of their intensity and low cost. I'm unsure about their safety, however.

Moderate-priced products

Moving up into the few-hundred-dollar price range, the RayMinder Model 1 looks like a good option to me: it's relatively inexpensive and provides spectrum data. The Model 2 looks even better, but doesn't seem to be available right now.

High-end products

The more-expensive (several hundred to several thousand dollar price range) options all look good to me. I imagine they'd be particularly useful to people that want to get their daily UVB dose quickly with an absolute minimum of UVA.

Product data

Here are all of the products I looked at if you'd like to compare them for your own purposes:

Product Approximate cost Output / notes
Exo Terra Repti Glo 2.0 (reptile product) product picture
$13+
14, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 40 watt bulbs available. Very little UVB relatively speaking.
Requires a fixture.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra Repti Glo 5.0 (reptile product) product picture
$14+
14, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 40 watt bulbs available. More UVB than the 2.0.
Requires a fixture.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra Repti Glo 10.0 (reptile product) product picture
$15+
14, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 40 watt bulbs available. More UVB than the 5.0.
Requires a fixture.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra Solar Glo (reptile product) product picture
$30+
80, 125, and 160 watt bulbs available.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra Sunray (reptile product) product picture
$31+
35, 50, and 70 watt bulbs available.
Requires a fixture.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra Turtle UVB (reptile product) product picture
$26
13 watts.
Requires a fixture.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra UVB100 (reptile product) product picture
$13
13 and 26 watt bulbs available.
Works in ordinary light fixtures.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra UVB150 (reptile product) product picture
$15
13 and 26 watt bulbs available.
Works in ordinary light fixtures.
Spectrum graph
Exo Terra UVB200 (reptile product) product picture
$24
13 and 26 watt bulbs available.
Works in ordinary light fixtures.
Spectrum graph
Fluker's Sun Spot (reptile product) product picture
$29+
100 and 160 watt bulbs available.
Works in ordinary light fixtures. The writer at Vitamin D Wiki estimates his 160 watt bulb with a reflector has about 10% of the UVB he gets from summer noontime Seattle sun.
Light Years 2 B2R product picture
$236
Unknown output. Available only with UVB bulbs.
Light Years 2 S18 product picture
$134
Unknown output. Available with UVB or UVC bulbs.
Light Years 2 S18 Flex product picture
$224
Unknown output. Available with UVB or UVC bulbs.
Light Years 2 S36 product picture
$149
Unknown output, but UVC bulbs.
Light Years 2 S72 product picture
$256
Unknown output, but UVC bulbs.
National Biological DermaLume 2X product picture
$1,000
311nm narrowband, 18 watts UV.
Prescription required.
National Biological Foldalite III product picture
$7,000
311nm narrowband. 1600 watts UV.
Prescription required.
National Biological Handisol II product picture
$2,000
Narrowband, 144 watts UV.
Prescription required.
National Biological Panosol 3D product picture
$4,900
Choice of UVA or 311nm UVB narrowband. 1000 watts UV.
Prescription required.
National Biological Panosol II product picture
$2,600+
Choice of UVA, UVB, or 311nm UVB narrowband. 600 watts UV.
Prescription required.
Rayminder Model 1 Indoor Sun product picture
$150
Spectrum graph
Rayminder Model 2 product picture
Unknown
Spectrum graph
Solarc Systems 100 Series product picture
$800+
Choice of UVB narrow or broadband.
Handheld
Solarc Systems 500 Series product picture
$1200+
UVB narrowband.
"hand/foot & spot", but big enough for torso
Solarc Systems 1000 Series product picture
$1800+
Choice of UVB narrow or broadband.
Full body. Looks like something you'd find on a space ship, so that's pretty cool.
Solarc Systems E Series product picture
$1200+
Choice of UVB narrow or broadband
Very large full-body system, expandable. Prescription required?
Sperti Psoriasis Lamp Model PH-36F product picture
$389
Unknown output.
Prescription required.
Sperti Vitamin D Lamp Model D/UV-F product picture
$425
Unknown output.
No prescription required.
ZooMed ReptiSun 10.0 CFL bulbs (reptile product) product picture
$28+
13 watts (mini CFL) or 26 watts (regular CFL) with a claimed 10% UVB, 30% UVA.
Works in ordinary light fixtures.
Spectrum graph
ZooMed ReptiSun 10.0 T5/T8 bulbs (reptile product) product picture
$28+
15, 17, 24, 25, 32, 39, and 54 watt bulbs available.
Requires a T5/T8 fixture.
Spectrum graph
ZooMed ReptiSun 5.0 Mini CFL bulbs (reptile product) product picture
$11+
13 and 26 watt bulbs available with a claimed 5% UVB, 30% UVA.
Works in ordinary light fixtures.
Spectrum graph
ZooMed ReptiSun 5.0 T5/T8 bulbs (reptile product) product picture
$22+
14, 15, 17, 24, 25, 32, 39 watt bulbs available.
Requires a T5/T8 fixture.
Spectrum graph

Other vitamin D info


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