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Illegal laser pointers on Amazon.com
UPDATE 4, December 5, 2022: A reader reported purchasing a blue laser on Amazon, which had been advertised as a "powerful pointer" The label claimed it was Class III with an output of 50,000 mW. This would be a 50 watt laser — which is impossible for a hand-held blue visible laser. It was probably over 500 mW meaning it should be labeled as a Class 4 laser. It also did not have a key switch or similar device to prevent casual activation of the laser. The reader said they only found one laser listed online as a burning Class 4 laser which had a keyed interlock switch. We recommended reporting the laser to FDA. (Thanks for JW for the information.)
UPDATE 3, November 9, 2021: The 40mW laser below was reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On Nov. 9 FDA wrote that Amazon had already taken down the listing. I believe the case is closed, at least for this particular laser.
UPDATE 2, October 31 2021: Apparently some high powered laser pointers are still available at Amazon, despite their 2013 crackdown. On October 31 2021, a reader of this website wrote to say there was a 40 mW "High Power Green Pointer" for sale at Amazon. A buyer's review dated October 9 2021 said "This is actually a strong laser pointer….At night a strong beam is clearly visible as you can see in my picture. If you shine it on a billboard several blocks away you will see a very bright spot." The reader also said there were "many many others" for sale as well.
UPDATE, August 13 2013: Amazon.com has recently tightened its rules for selling laser pointers and related products. The new Amazon.com policy requires pre-approval of laser pointers and related products. The products are limited to Class 3R (5 mW) or less and must be branded; examples include Kensington, Quartet, 3M and Logitech. Products must have a testing report from Intertek, UL or SGS. For more details, see this story at LaserPointerSafety.com.
The information below, originally published in March 2013, is retained for historical purposes.
Introduction: Around March 2013, a number of persons independently published information about laser pointers being sold that were overpowered and/or illegal. The information below about Amazon.com is from a private communication with LaserPointerSafety.com. In addition, see the articles on a NIST study of overpowered laser pointers in the U.S., a university study of overpowered laser pointers in Australia, a description of illegal laser pen imports in the U.K., and two mentions in this article: one about an FDA study of overpowered lasers in the U.S. and the other about a German study of the output of 40 laser pointers showing significant differences between measured and calculated hazard levels.
In December 2012, a laser manufacturer tested 24 laser pointers being sold on Amazon.com. They found that all were illegal and over-powered. While advertised as being 5 mW or less, the average power of the 24 lasers was 41 mW. All of the green ones emitted dangerous invisible infrared radiation, in addition to their visible beam.
Here are some of the typical Amazon-sold laser pointers that they tested:
Below are screenshots of the Amazon pages for the 405 nm laser outputting 87.6 mW, and for the 532 nm laser outputting 49 mW, of which 40 mW is dangerous invisible infrared light. Note that the lasers sell for $4.95 and $5.44, respectively.
The manufacturer’s tester noted that: “There are at least four sellers, MillionAccessories, elowprice, New Harbor and LWZTech. I don’t know how they do it, but they are very good at Amazon system. They must have sold many laser pointers (much much more than 10k monthly, maybe around 100k) from different sellers and different SKUs, but all the same products and shipped from HK; if customers need fast shipment, they can ship from US.”
The manufacturer contacted Amazon as well as FDA about their concerns. As of late January 2013, Amazon had not responded. Therefore, they sent the information to us, in the hope that the general public would be able to know of the potential hazard from these Amazon-sold lasers.
The manufacturer’s testing procedures were also reviewed by a U.S. government expert in testing laser pointers. He said that the detector is a large area, high power thermopile which may have some inaccuracies when testing low-power devices. However, his own experience leads him to state that “it is very nice data to see” and it does correlate with what he had found about overpowered laser pointers.
Below, we are reprinting the letter that the manufacturer sent to Amazon, as well as the results of their laser pointer tests. The letter has been edited and re-formatted by LaserPointerSafety.com to make it easier for the public to read and understand.
We have also included the Amazon laser pointer test results in three formats: as an Apple Numbers spreadsheet (with photos), as a PDF file (also with photos) and as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (no photos -- they did not convert from Numbers format).
Subject: Illegal and Very Dangerous Lasers Being Sold on Amazon’s Website
This letter is being sent under Amazon’s “Urgent Help Needed” category for three reasons:
- Many laser pointers being sold on Amazon are illegal to sell. See attachment for details
- These lasers are very dangerous and can cause blindness
- The lasers do not have required safety features which allows them to be sold at unreasonably low prices which hurts Amazon and legal laser sellers.
Supporting details are listed below and on the attached spreadsheet.
Our company is a supplier of laser products for over two decades. We have had personnel from FDA visit our factories many times over the years and we are always up to date and compliant with ALL FDA rules regarding laser safety. We have noticed a large amount of Amazon suppliers who are selling illegal and very dangerous lasers on the Amazon.com web site. Here is some information you may be interested to know.
According to FDA/CDRH regulation 1040.10, lasers sold as pointers must have less than 5 mW output power with correct labeling on the product.
- Output power: If the laser is more than 5 mW, it can damage human eyes permanently, that's the reason that laser pointer needs to be under 5 mW.
- However, even if under 5 mW it can still be harmful if people directly point the laser into a person’s eye over 0.25 second. Therefore, FDA has a strict rule for product label: It must have four types of information on permanent-stick labels that must be put on all laser products such as laser pointers, remote presenter, laser gun sights, etc. The label needs to include the following: aperture indication, warning mark with laser wavelength/output level information, manufacturer name and address and production date. FDA has a standard format that needs to be followed.
- All laser products manufacturers need to apply for AND receive an Accession Number from the FDA before they are allowed to import lasers into the US market. Each model needs its own independent Accession Number -- you are not allowed to use the same same Accession Number for different models, even if they only have a small change.
To follow FDA regulations, a company needs to incur some basic cost to be sure the product is manufactured with all safety features and also to apply for the Accession Number and put on correct labels required by the FDA. Other examples of safety features that need to incur some cost are the lasers need auto-power control circuit so the laser will keep a constant output power and maintain the output power that will meet the safety regulation that is directed by the FDA. In the case of green lasers, there is an additional safety feature that must be included in the design of the product. All green lasers must have an infrared (IR) filter built inside the green laser to remove the IR part of the laser beam out from the aperture for eye safety.
However we see a lot of extremely low priced laser products that are sold on Amazon. We strongly suspected that many of the lasers being sold very cheaply on Amazon could not possibly meet the FDA regulation and in fact are extremely dangerous to the consumer. Therefore we brought some of them to do test and what we found was far beyond what we even originally suspected. Please refer the attached test report for specific test data results. Here is the short conclusion:
- NONE of the lasers that we bought on Amazon and tested have the correct label required by the FDA, Some of the products had NO label on the product, not even a warning label! The lasers that did have a label only had a warning label but the format was incorrect.
- All of the manufacturers/distributors of these lasers claim on Amazon that their output power is under 5 mW. However our test shows ALL of them have more than 5mW power and most of them are extremely high. They can be harmful to human eyes immediately!
- Some are shipped from Hong Kong directly to US address by HK post and then USPS. We suspect they do this to avoid FDA inspection. FDA checks our products periodically when we they come through our customs broker. We always pass their test but there is no way if the FDA inspects these products that they could pass the test.
This is what we suggest:
- Ask all laser suppliers to provide their FDA Accession Number for each independent model they sell on Amazon. Some of your vendors have more than 50 laser pointer items, they cannot use one Accession Number for all models of laser. They need one Accession Number for each laser. Then, you need to check that the model number actually matches the FDA Accession Number document. All those without correct Accession Numbers need to be removed from Amazon.com immediately.
- No Amazon-listed lasers should be allowed to ship from outside the USA directly to U.S. consumers, since Amazon cannot control what the distributor is actually shipping to your customer.
- No violet/purple lasers should be allowed on your store, since there is no way they can function as a laser pointer and still be under the 5mW regulation by the FDA.
- All lasers should have the correct FDA-approved labels on them before they can be sold on your web site.
Thank you very much for your attention and we are waiting your soonest reply.
PS: Here is some more technical background for your better understanding.
- The human eye can only see wavelengths between 400 nm to 700 nm wavelength; out of this range, the human eye cannot see. Green is located in the middle and has the most sensitivity to eyes, that's why a green laser is so bright. Within this range, we call it visible light, out of this range, it's called Infrared( IR ). Above 700 nm or Ultraviolet (UV) light within 400 nm. Invisible lasers are even more dangerous because if a laser is located out of visible range, its power can reach the eye-damage level but still cannot be seen by the eye. Therefore, the FDA have more strict regulation for IR lasers or UV lasers. For example: IR consumer laser only can be class I laser, which mean less than 0.7 mW. Above 0.7 mW it is classified as class IIIb products which are only allowed to be sold to the military and law enforcement personnel.
- All purple/violet lasers on Amazon are 405 nm laser, which are all using blue-ray disc driver laser(which are mass produced for the market). Since 405 nm laser diodes are very close to UV light that means they have very limited visibility. If it were produced under 5 mw per FDA regulation, it couldn't possibly function as a pointer because the eyes barely can see the point. That's why we don't produce purple laser pointer with 405 nm. To my astonishment, all three violet lasers we tested have more than 60 mW output (12 times the legal limit). That explains why the violet/purple laser pointer can work for pointing: because using a very high dangerous power level is the only way that 405 nm laser can be seen and used as a laser pointer. These pointers are also extremely dangerous and could possibly damage eyes immediately. Common sense dictates that if the UV light too strong and can damage skin, then can you imagine what damage such a high power laser near UV range can do if the laser is shot into someone’s eyes?
- Green laser beams aren't directly generated by a laser diode. They are generated by 808nm IR laser diode, go through non-linear crystal to become 1064 nm IR laser light, than go through another KTP crystal double frequency to become a 532 nm green laser light. Therefore three wave lengths will come out of the aperture: 808nm IR, 1064 nm IR and 532 green laser light. Normally, the 1064 nm is pretty high, therefore, we need a built-in IR cut filter to block IR laser (808 and 1064) in order to project only the 532 green laser out of the aperture. You can see from the test report that we measure total power and 532 nm green twice for green laser pointers and all of them that don’t have a built-in IR cut filter the power is much higher than green laser only. The result is that all of them have extremely high power laser output, some even more that 100 mW and most of the output is IR laser which is class IIIB level and extremely dangerous. Some of the green lasers on Amazon even show a picture that their laser can light a match and they still claim it is a 5 mW laser, do you believe it? I just could believe what I saw.
- Even the red lasers we bought have more than 5 mW output. Can you imagine children holding onto those lasers and playing around? I think these people just use Amazon powerful selling platform to do illegal business. Would you like to help them to do those kind of illegal business?