The Ultimate Guide to Surgical Lights What You Should Know

The Ultimate Guide to Surgical Lights: What You Should Know

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The saying “surgical precision” exists for a reason—surgeons undergo extensive training to perform delicate procedures with pinpoint accuracy. However, without surgical lights, conducting these life-saving surgeries wouldn’t be nearly as possible or easy. These lights illuminate surgical sites so surgeons can see clearly for extended periods of time. Because some operations take hours to perform, these lights have to be up for the challenge.

If you’re perusing the surgical light market to equip your operating room (OR), you may have noticed the many makes and models to choose from. This can make the process of selecting lights a little intimidating, especially because of how valuable they are. We aim to provide the ultimate guide to surgical lights and explain what you should know about selecting the right lights for your OR.

Illumination Level

The level of illumination will be your number one factor to consider when choosing a surgical light. The amount of light needed will be largely based on the procedure occurring in the OR, the surgeon’s preferences, and how wide and deep the cavity is. A surgical site must be fully illuminated so the surgeon does not have to squint, which can quickly lead to eye fatigue, especially in longer procedures. However, the light must not be too bright, as it can also cause eye fatigue and glares that negatively affect surgical precision.

Color Temperature

Color temperature is the quality of light a bulb emits, affecting the appearance of the color. We can measure the color temperature in degrees Kelvin. The higher the value, the bluer a light appears. The lower the value, the more yellow, red, or pinkish the light appears. The ideal color temperature for surgical lights is close to the color temperature of the sun, which is around 5,000 degrees Kelvin.

Heat Level

Light bulbs naturally emit heat, and heat management is an important skill every surgeon and member of the perioperative team must have in their arsenal. Many surgical lights—even LEDs that emit low levels of heat—need filters to reduce the amount of heat radiation. Too much heat can lead to tissue desiccation, which can significantly impact wound healing.

Shadow and Glare

As mentioned, the illumination level can impact how well a surgeon can see, and it’s important for the surgical site to remain unobstructed. Surgeons and members of the perioperative team can cast shadows on the surgical site, making it difficult for the surgeon to perform. To eliminate these issues, multiple light sources are often needed throughout the surgical procedure.

Once again, too much illumination can be a bad thing. Light bouncing off of reflective surfaces can cause a significant amount of glare. Many surgical light manufacturers design lighting with specific filters to reduce glare. However, it is up to the surgical team to place and angle lights strategically in order to reduce glare before the surgery begins.

Types of Surgical Lights

Overhead Lights

Overhead lights are typically wall or ceiling-mounted and have a handle that allows surgeons or members of the perioperative team to adjust the light as needed. These lights can easily illuminate a surgical site, allowing surgeons to see clearly. The issue with overhead lights is that they can actually illuminate an area too well, making it hard to focus the light deep into the cavity. They are not ideal for small surgical sites, and they could overheat the patient’s tissue and cause challenges with shadow reduction.


Headlights, also known as headlamps, are worn by the surgeon while performing surgery to illuminate specific areas with high precision. Many come with illuminated loupes for magnification. These lamps are typically adjustable, so the surgeon doesn’t have to rely on the perioperative team. The challenge with headlights is that the batteries add weight to the headlamp, making it uncomfortable over time. At the same time, a corded model can pull on the neck. Both headlamps can result in neck pain and tension, so it’s important for the surgeon to choose the model they prefer.

In-Cavity Lights

In-cavity lights are common in surgeries where illumination inside a deep cavity is necessary. Much like an overhead light, it is outside of the sterile field. However, these lights are typically affixed to an instrument—much like a headlight—that the surgeon can easily adjust as they see fit. However, in-cavity lights do not provide as much illumination as other options, and there is always the risk of infection from introducing another foreign item into the body. Plus, surgeons must remain highly conscious of heat management when using in-cavity lights.

Stationary vs. Mobile Lighting

We can break down the types of surgical lights into two categories: stationary and mobile. Mobile light fixtures include in-cavity or headlights. This type of lighting allows the surgeon to move the light source freely, reducing shadows. However, surgeons must be aware of heat management, even with lights that emit a low level of heat. The closer the lights get to the surgical site, the higher the risk of tissue desiccation.

Overhead lights fall under the stationary lights category. While they carry the risk of casting shadows, they don’t obstruct the surgeon. However, for the surgeon to focus on their job, they and the perioperative team must be excellent communicators. If not, the surgeon will have to do a lot of extra work, pausing to remove their hand from the surgical site and adjust the light accordingly.

Types of Lighting

LED Lights

LED lights are the current standard for most operating rooms, as they come in various sizes, last for many hours, and are highly durable. While they are more expensive than other bulbs, they offer the purest white in terms of lighting, illuminating surgical sites while emitting little heat. Unlike halogen lights, they tend to fade slowly over time, often going unnoticed, which can cause eye fatigue.

HID Lights

High-intensity discharge lights (HIDs) are gas discharge lights that produce either cool white or warm yellow lighting. They are excellent for illuminating large areas and can easily flood a room. While they are common as overhead surgical lights, they require specialized filters to block the high amount of UV radiation they emit.

Incandescent Lights

Incandescent lights, also known as halogen bulbs, have a short lifespan, emit a substantial amount of heat, have a low luminosity, and can cause eye fatigue. This may make you wonder why they’re still in operating rooms around the world. Halogen lights are very cheap and easy to dispose of, making them more cost-effective for facilities purchasing lightbulbs in bulk.

Hopefully, this ultimate guide to surgical lights shows what you should know about surgical lighting and illuminating your operating room. If you’re ready to equip your OR, shop Future Health Concept’s collection of surgical lights today. When you shop with us, you’ll find everything you need to keep your medical facility stocked, equipped, and illuminated.

The Ultimate Guide to Surgical Lights: What You Should Know 
Staff 9/14/2023