IGeL light therapy: here comes the sun

Therapy with bright white artificial light is intended to lighten the mood in autumn and winter in the case of seasonal depression. We check whether this self-payer service is worthwhile

Light as a mood enhancer: fresh air and exercise outdoors also counteract seasonal depression

© W & B / Michelle Günther

What is being done there?

Bright white artificial light is shone on the eyes for half an hour every day to improve the mood. The therapy is carried out with daylight lamps with an output of 10,000 lux and can also be carried out at home - ideally right in the morning after getting up.

"The best thing to do in the morning is to influence the internal clock. The so-called circadian system of the body is thus properly clocked again," explains Dr. Dietmar Winkler, specialist in seasonal mental illnesses at the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Vienna.


  • The uncomplicated therapy can usually be easily integrated into everyday life. It is not necessary to look directly into the light source, so patients can read, eat or work on the computer during the session.
  • If used correctly, nothing is known of side effects or damage. However, if you are sensitive to light or have an eye disease, you should only carry out the treatment after consulting a doctor. Some medications make people more sensitive to light, possibly also the herbal antidepressant St. John's wort.
  • Professional societies recommend light therapy for mild to moderate depression in the dark season. They give it the same status as drugs. Some patients become completely symptom-free through the treatment.


  • Not all studies have been able to demonstrate a beneficial effect of light therapy - partly because there is no set standard for treatment.
  • A preventive effect of the self-pay service has not been proven. Some experts still recommend light therapy. Dietmar Winkler: "Anyone who knows about their tendency to winter depression should start prophylactic treatment as early as September."
  • Fresh air and exercise outdoors also counteract seasonal depression - and cost nothing. However, the weak natural winter light may not be enough and must be supplemented by artificial light.


A session in a practice usually costs between 7 and 13 euros. The treatment should be carried out regularly throughout the winter. For the home you need a daylight lamp without a UV component.

"We recommend products that emit 10,000 lux at a distance of at least 50 centimeters," says Winkler. Cost: from 300 euros. Cheaper, weaker lamps must be placed closer to the head in order to achieve similar effects.


For seasonal depression, light therapy is worth a try. The critical IGeL-Monitor, an expert committee for the classification of individual health services, rates the treatment as "generally positive". The mood-enhancing effect should be noticeable after one to four weeks.

In general, people with depression should always consult a doctor. He makes the diagnosis and recommends therapy.