July 28, 2022

FDA: Some UV Wands Emit Unsafe Levels of Radiation

Certain brands of ultraviolet (UV) wands may expose people to unsafe levels of ultraviolet-C (UV-C) radiation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns in a safety communication published last week. FDA describes UV wands as handheld products intended to emit UV-C radiation to disinfect surfaces. The products are generally used outside of healthcare settings. The results of FDA testing show that, at a distance of approximately two inches, some UV wands give off as much as 3,000 times more UV-C radiation than the exposure limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (PDF), a nonprofit organization that works to develop science-based advice on limiting exposure to non-ionizing radiation. FDA states that the affected products may cause injury to users’ or nearby individuals’ skin, eyes, or both after a few seconds of use. The products named in FDA’s communication share common features like a lack of safety information, claims to disinfect in seconds, and the lack of any means to protect users, according to FDA.

“When a product is advertised to disinfect in seconds, it likely means that it gives off an unsafe level of UV-C radiation,” FDA warns.

FDA urges consumers to not use these UV wands and to instead consider using alternative disinfection methods, including chemical cleaners, in their homes or similar spaces. The agency has issued “notification of defect” letters to the affected manufacturers and plans to work with them to ensure that the problems with the products are adequately corrected.

View FDA’s safety communication for further details, including a list of affected products and manufacturers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred interest among consumers in the use of UV wands and UV-C lights or lamps to disinfect surfaces. FDA explains that UV-C radiation may be effective in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, but that “currently there is limited published data about the wavelength, dose, and duration of UV-C radiation required to inactivate [the virus].”

Upper-room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) systems have also garnered increased attention during the pandemic. UVGI is the use of ultraviolet energy to kill viral, bacterial, and fungal organisms, and upper-room UVGI describes a disinfection zone of UV energy located above people in occupied rooms. According to CDC, UVGI can be effective at reducing exposures to SARS-CoV-2 in some group settings, but does not replace the need for cleaning or disinfecting surfaces where infectious SARS-CoV-2 droplets may be present.

Related: An infographic (PDF) published by AIHA focuses on the safe use of UV radiation for surface and air disinfection. The infographic is intended for the general public and accompanies a white paper developed by members of AIHA's Non-Ionizing Radiation Committee that addresses occupational exposures to UV light from artificial sources. The white paper, "Occupational Safety and Health Guide for Surface Disinfection Practices Using Germicidal Ultraviolet Radiation" (PDF), was most recently updated in March 2021.