Surgical Lights Buyers Guide

2022-10-20 Galbino

For many doctors, hospitals, medical offices and surgical centers, selecting the best surgical lighting for your budget is a complex and time-consuming project. There are many options to choose from and advancements in technology bring significant improvements that help the surgeon and surgical team operate with great visibility. Improved brightness, better light color, and lower heat are several benefits that improve the operating theater and help the surgical team with surgical procedures. Advancements in medical procedures, such as keyhole surgeries and endoscopic techniques, also require better medical illumination systems. Every light used for surgical purposes must adhere to certain requirements in terms of luminance, color, and other variables. This buyer’s guide highlights the main product features and the benefits they bring to the surgeon and the surgical team to help buyers make informed decisions and save time.

Before purchasing surgical lights, it’s important to consider the following:

* What are Surgical Lights and How Do they Work?

* How Much Do Surgical Lights Cost?

* Surgical Light Technology

* Main Specifications to Consider When Investing in Surgical Lighting

* Power Backup for Surgical Lighting

What are Surgical Lights and How Do They Work?

Surgical lights are referred to by many names: Operating lights, OR lights, operating room lights, surgical lamps, and surgical light heads. Surgical lights are medical equipment devices used to illuminate the operating field during surgery. A group of surgical lights providing lighting in the operating theatre is often referred to as a surgical light system.

Surgical lights provide the surgical team with bright, consistent lighting focused on the operation table during surgery. Surgical lights can be categorized based on the light type as either incandescent (conventional) or LED lights. Conventional surgical lights are basically gas-filled incandescent lights that contain halogen at a certain pressure setting. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights have been a revolutionary improvement in the field of surgical lighting, virtually eliminating the problem of infrared radiation caused by excessive heat. Surgical lights can also be categorized based on mounting configurations such as ceiling mounted, on-floor or portable lights, and wall-mounted lights.

How Much Do Surgical Lights Cost?

Surgical lights are priced anywhere from $2,000 to over $40,000. The price depends on many variables and options. Do you need a portable floor light or a ceiling mounted light system with multiple lights? The number of surgical light heads and optional imaging equipment are the most important factors for price. Modern surgical lights are available with a range of accessories that can increase the price. HD video cameras, HD monitors, and power backups are a few options that are typically purchased with a multi-arm ceiling-mounted light system.

The lifespan of surgical lights typically ranges from 10-12 years or longer with the new LED light sources. With LED surgical lights, the chances of replacing the bulbs are quite slim, but if they ever do need to be replaced due to damage or inefficiency, it can be costly. Replacing halogen lights typically cost about $100 to $300 each and spares need to be in stock and nearby. The costs for incandescent lights may increase in coming years as manufactures shift production to LED light sources. Surgical lights are an important investment and asset for medical facilities and it is important to buy a brand that has a comprehensive multi-year warranty. In some cases, extended warranties can be purchased.

Surgical Light Technology

Lights used in surgical lights are typically incandescent lights or light-emitting diodes (LED). Incandescent lights resemble typical domestic light bulbs that emit light from a filament, glowing in a gas-filled glass chamber. The filament is usually made of tungsten. The type and proportion of gas in the bulb varies. Incandescent lights do not last as long as LED lights and they may need to be replaced during a surgical procedure.

In recent years, surgical lights were available with metal-halide bulbs. Metal-halide lights are more efficient than incandescent bulbs and produce a brighter light. These bulbs generally last longer than incandescent bulbs. A major drawback to metal-halide lights is they require a 5-7-minute warmup period. In contrast, LED lights immediately reach their light output. Another disadvantage of metal-halide lights is they contained hazardous mercury.

LEDs are the current state-of-the-art light source for surgical lights. LED lights relies on a semiconductor technology and have many advantages over incandescent bulbs.

Main Specifications to Consider When Investing in Surgical Lighting

All surgical lights must comply with the technical requirements set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Some of the most important characteristics of the lighting performance are color rendition, color temperature, and illuminance.

Illuminance/Light Output (40,000 – 160,000 lux) is the measurement of how much light falls on the surface per square meter. The units of light eliminated by surgical lights are measured in lux with a lux meter. This is measured at 1m for surgical lights. According to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the illuminance of the operating cavity should be within the 40,000 - 160,000 lux range. In contrast, the requirement for the reading light in the patient’s room is 300 lx, for examination light – 1000 lx.

Color Temperature (3,000 – 6,700 K) is the measurement of the light source’s color relative to an ideal light source. The unit of measurement for color temperature is Kelvin. The measurement of daylight color temperature is around 5,800 K. The IEC requires the color temperature of surgical lights to be within the 3,000 – 6,700 K range.

Warmer colors (yellows and reds) appear at lower temperatures, while cooler colors (white and blue) appear at temperatures above 5,000 Kelvin. For a quick comparison, light from a candle is around 1,800 K, a soft white incandescent light bulb is around 2,500 K, and direct daylight white is approximately 5,800 K.

Halogen lights generally have a color temperature around 4,000 K. Some halogen lights produce a higher color temperature. However, as the color temperate increases the heat emissions increase as well. In contrast, LEDs work independently of heat and color. LEDs have a color temperature around 4,300 K to 4,500 K. Maintaining optimal color temperature is critically important, as it influences the color and rendition of body tissue and fluids.

Color Rendition (85 – 100) is the measure of quality of light and it is often referred to as the color rendering index (CRI). Natural colors of objects are best visualized under the bright daylight, to which lighting devices are compared (reference value of 100). Lights with “good” color rendition have a CRI over 80. Lights with very good color rendition have a CRI over 90. Often regular lighting can distort the color and appearance of objects, something that must be avoided during a surgical procedure. Therefore, the IEC has mandated that the color rendition index (Ra) for surgical lights needs to be between 85 and 100.

Power Backup for Surgical Lighting

While most electrical sources are reliable, they can experience outages and power interruptions shutting off the surgical light. The IEC mandates that in case of a power supply interruption, lighting in an operating room should be restored within five seconds and maintain at least 50 percent of the previous lux intensity, which cannot be less than the minimum requirement of 40,000 lux. Complete restoration of the surgical lighting required must occur within 40 seconds of the interruption. For that reason, it is unacceptable to run all surgical lighting equipment from a single power source. Many surgical lights are available with a backup power source in case of power interruption.

Some of the most important technical and operational requirements for surgical lights are summarized in the following table. Data for examination lights are given for comparison.


Examination lights

Surgical lights

Minor surgery

Major surgery

Fail safe




Color rendition (CRI)

85 – 100

85 – 100

85 – 100

Color temperature (K)

3,000 – 6,700

3,000 – 6,700

3,000 – 6,700

Illuminance (lx)


40,000 – 160,000

40,000 – 160,000

Sterilizable handles