It’s 2021. I promised to stay positive on this blog for the year, and there is something positive to report: not very many people seem to fall for this scam which, let’s be clear here, is a scam at best and callous indifference to human life for profit at worst.
I am talking about a thing called “UVLEN.” What it is, is simple: a sub-$1 production cost filter gadget and a strobe light app (sold for $30) for iOS and Android which, so the website promises, “emits UV light” and “kills germs.”
Quote from the website:
What it claims to be:
By simply sliding a “filter” over a phone’s flashlight, the UVLEN claims to emit Ultraviolet light which, if applied for 10 seconds, kills “bacteria and germs.”
This is, at least in theory, not unheard of: UV light does kill bacteria and viruses as well as other spores.
Botulism, for example, is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which produces a toxin leading to severe health complications, up to death. Since c. botulinum is found in soil almost everywhere in the world and since it thrives in anaerobic environments so common in modern food packaging, UV light is often used to kill those bacteria.
However: the UV light used is actual ultraviolet light (< 220 nm) and not just violet/blue looking light in a specific spectrum (400-500 nm).
In nature, light exists on a spectrum of wavelengths. Simplified: the shorter the wavelength, the more problematic to life light becomes. UV light is slightly shorter than visible light, if the wavelengths get even shorter they’re more easily able to penetrate solid objects and pass through them.
There are three kinds of UV light: UVA, which penetrates deep into the skin and causes aging. UVB, which is the part of the spectrum that causes sunburn and skin cancer, and UVC, which affects genetic material in a way that does not directly destroy the cell or virus but “reprograms” it to be damaged and non-functional.
Sunlight has all three, but UVC is being filtered out by the ozone layer. Which is why keeping it intact is so important. UVC is really bad stuff, exposition to it can severely hurt you.
Blue light is around the 500 nm spectrum, while UV light is between 400 and 10 nanometers. At the 122–200 nm side of the UV spectrum, the so-called Far UVC, germicidal properties have been proven in actual research. The UVC spectrum ranges from 100 to 280, it includes the “Far-UVC” part and is used in clinical and medical applications.
However, there’s a basic thing you should know about those waves: they don’t generally get shorter by themselves. While there are very involved means to shorten a wave, make it take less space between peaks, given a chance wave want to stay waves and, sometimes, extend their length, but never contract them.
What it is in reality:
UVLEN claims to emit UV light by sliding a simple gel filter over your camera’s flashlight. Again, in theory this would work: filters can filter out some wavelengths and let others pass. For example, a “red filter” lets waves of 620 to 750 nm pass, but blocks others, leading to red light.
That’s possible, because white light is comprised of all wavelengths between 380 to 750 nm, and all you have to do is cut off waves around 380 and below, and light becomes red. Same with green. Filter everything except for the space around 550 nm and you get green light.
Again, this is possible, because green (550nm) waves are being emitted.
We see a trend here: for something to be filtered (made exclusive), it has to exist in the first place.
A camera flashlight emits light between 400 and 710 nm. I won’t go into the science of phosphor emitters, but Apple’s own specs (as well as Samsung’s and Google’s, that’s the ones I could find) state, that the embedded LED is based on white emission through yellow phosphor filtering (from a rather “blue” source).
So, the gel we move in front of the lens does one thing: it filters out all wavelengths except those in the blue spectrum, between 400 and 495 nm. That’s quite a ways from the 100–280 nm UV wave lengths known to act germicidal.
In short: a filter can not yield a spectrum that is not in the source it filters. And there is no UV light emitted by a flash light.
Which is good! Otherwise, lighting someone up with a flashlight would be attempted murder.
Filters do not create wavelengths, they only reduce the number of them present on exit!
What this means:
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People are (rightfully) concerned about dragging viral loads around on their hands and masks. While the discussion about fomite transmission has become a political, not scientific, one, disinfection of hands and surfaces as well as multiuse masks is a main component of overall transmission avoidance.
What if a simple wave of a phone over the surface could alleviate transmission concerns?
UVLEN actually takes this scam a step further, linking to studies discussing the 222nm range of UV light, UVC. Ballsy!
This is two truths and a lie: of course visible light is generally safe to be applied to the skin for 10 seconds. Far-UVC is not! And, probably, this can be tested and certified. The lie is simple: there is no “necessary amount of far-UVC” emitted by a phone camera flashlight.
UVLEN filtered light has no germicidal properties. Anyone relying on a cell phone camera for these puts themselves and others at risk.
And this is the rub:
The makers of UVLEN likely know this. It’s easy and costs less than what the company probably paid to have their website made to test for present UV light. A good spectrometer costs between $400 and $4000 on Amazon, peanuts compared to many other tests.
So UVLEN intentionally and capitalizing on people’s fears and wants to remain safe while keeping others safe causes dangerous situations to happen in which users of their product presume themselves safer thanks to the use of the device.
This is, given the properties of the virus UVLEN very clearly aims at, depraved behavior. If it is “just a scam” or callous indifference to human life is up to you, the reader.
The UVLEN filter can not work, because there is no UV light to be filtered for emitted from cell phone camera flashlights. Because the light emitted is just simple spectrum blue light, the promises and claims on their website are bogus.
At the best, this is just a scam to make UVLEN a lot of money from the pandemic, at its worst it is a way to capitalize on peoples’ fears and conscientious aims to increase safety for themselves and others that puts innocents are a very real and present risk of disease and death.
I am turning off comments, since some UVLEN people are spamming them with links to the product (I have intentionally not linked it from here). I am currently featuring higher on Google’s ranking than them, taking interested buyers to me, rather than them, which makes them unhappy. If you like to comment, send me an email.