For Linaya Hahn, light is health – and, she hopes, wealth.
Her Longmont-based company, Sunlight Sciences Inc, distributes and sells her Indoor Sunshine brand of compact fluorescent lights and linear tubes. Made in China to her exacting specifications with a phosphor formula that generates a full-spectrum rainbow of wavelengths, they emit what she calls “the closest match to natural sunlight available, a ‘bio-correct’ light for people, plants and animals.”
A holistic-health educator, licensed nutrition counselor and author of a book on premenstrual syndrome, Hahn sees natural light as a basic need of life.
“We’re so used to thinking about food, water and air,” she said, “but we flip on a light and don’t even think about it. You can eat an excellent diet, but if it’s not metabolized, it doesn’t work in the body. Research has always shown how natural light fuels our metabolism.”
Hahn’s research into the effects of various combinations of light wavelengths on the body’s immune system and mental health dates back to the work of Niels Ryberg Finsen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1903 for experiments in treatment of diseases including lupus with concentrated light radiation. His findings fueled the opening of tuberculosis sanatoriums in sunshine-rich areas — “how the town of Hygiene got its name,” Hahn said.
Standard incandescent bulbs emit mostly yellow on the color spectrum, Hahn said. “Thomas Edison made it to match candles and fireplaces. But we need all the colors for proper biological functioning. Each wavelength triggers different responses in the body. The one that’s missing most in artificial light is blue. Blue raises serotonin levels that keep us both more alert and calmer.”
Other lights marketed as “full-spectrum” have “the appearance of blue, but not the actual blue wavelengths as measured by CRI that ours do,” Hahn said. “Even if you can’t see the color in the light, the body responds to that specific wavelength of blue.”
Her bulbs boast a color-rendering index of 95, a measurement based on the natural-sunlight benchmark of 100 CRI. “A CRI of 90 can be marketed as ‘full spectrum,’ and that’s not good enough for me,” she said.
Hahn grew up in the Chicago area, where “the lack of sun made me realize how much we needed light,” she said. “Even in Colorado, it may be gorgeous outside, but if you’re working indoors under fluorescent light that is still mostly yellow or orange, you’re missing a nutrient.”
Her research into how light affected PMS led her to found Light for Health Inc. in 1989 and start marketing fluorescents, but by the late ’90s she knew they needed to carry wavelengths closer to that of natural sunlight. A visit to Colorado for a 2003 meeting at the invitation of Dr. Robert Ivker, co-founder and president of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, opened her eyes to the effects of high-altitude sunshine in the Rocky Mountain West, and she moved to Boulder County the next year.
She and her companion, electrical engineer and systems analyst Jay Posner, improved the lights’ formula and rebranded her company as Sunlight Sciences in 2010, with Posner as president and chief executive and Hahn as senior adviser. Posner was killed in a New Mexico auto accident in August, and Hahn officially has taken over the executive reins.
Her team includes her son, Christopher Back, who has spearheaded much of the research and product development; e-commerce manager Mark Fischer of Boulder-based Inspire Commerce Inc.; and Steve Miller, her director of branding and integrated marketing, who developed her bulbs’ glossy, hexagonal, information-rich packaging though his Lafayette-based company, IdeaSource Creative Marketing Services LLC.
Sunlight Sciences’ bulbs carry a suggested retail price of $17.49, and about 50,000 remain in stock out of an original 2010 manufacturing run of 90,000. “About the time the economy went down, our first shipment arrived,” Hahn said. Her team sells the bulbs online and is getting them into natural-foods and health-supplement retailers and even some doctors’ offices. Marketing is powered by endorsements from people such as Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin, an expert on autism and animal science.
Hahn said her company’s next generation of lighting will be light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs, which can be dimmed and don’t come with fluorescents’ disposal issues because of their mercury content. “We’re working on that already,” she said. “We also want to make an even more complex spectrum. We’ve also got people from Europe asking ‘When are you going to make a 220-volt bulb,’ so we’re studying that too.”
Meanwhile, she’s keeping an eye on research into the effects of light — on neonatal health at Duke University, on plants at North Carolina State and on autism by a doctoral. candidate in Los Angeles — which could lead to even better Sunlight Sciences lights. “We ask the questions,” she said, “and get other people to solve them for us.”