Skincare 101: What Does Blue Light From Screens Do To Your Skin?
It’s no secret that many of us spend a little too much time glued to our phones and other devices. And with the onset of Covid-19, many of us are spending more time starring at screen than ever before––be it to work remotely or to catch up on the latest Netflix releases––so it’s time we paid attention to what this could be doing to our skin.
We checked in with the experts to find out what all this extra screen time could be doing, and how to protect ourselves from blue light.
What is blue light?
First things first, what actually is blue light? We know to protect our skin with sunscreen when we’re outside (even on overcast days!), but why do we need protection inside?
“Blue light, sometimes used interchangeably with high-energy visible (HEV) light, spans the shorter wavelengths of the visible light spectrum, from 400 to 450 nanometers. Sources of blue light are all around us, from sunlight to computer and phone screens,” states Dr. Christina Weng, a Harvard trained dermatologist and founder of Mymiel Skincare.
While we’ve been long-warned about UV light, blue light is a whole different beast. Although the sun does produce blue light, we’re also exposed to it through electronic devices.
“When people think about discoloration and the skin they are often focused on UV light and its effects. However, blue lights is garnering more attention these days given the widespread use of portable electronics and reliance on these for work and school. UV light only makes up about 2 to 5% of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun. Although its effects of DNA damage on our cells is well documented, more than half of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun is visible [blue] light,” explains Erum Ilyas, President & Founder of Montgomery Dermatology and CEO & Founder of AmberNoon.
What does blue light do to skin?
Although there is not a huge wealth of evidence yet determining the extent of the impact of blue light on skin, “There is a growing body of evidence revealing that blue light exposure may cause oxidative stress on the skin resulting in premature aging (i.e. fine lines, wrinkles, age spots) and cause damage to the skin cells (also referred to keratinocytes and melanocytes), which may lead to textural changes and dyspigmentation of the skin,” explains Dr. Rina Allawh, Board-certified dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology LLC.
Lesley Reynolds, Co-Founder of The Harley Street Skin Clinic, adds to this, stating “While blue light has been shown to impact your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, the verdict is still out to determine the extent of its impacts on your skin. We are still trying to learn about its cellular effects on the body especially the skin, but a few small studies appear to show that exposure to blue light may increase the formation of free radicals in the skin and result in higher pigment, redness and possibly premature aging.”
Lesley also sites a study published in 2017, which "indicates that––like ultraviolet rays––blue light leads to the development of free radicals and induces oxidative stress in live tissue. Such free radicals allow tissue cells to release enzymes that break down collagen and elastin throughout the skin. It may also reach deeper into the skin, destroy important proteins and results to wrinkles and loss of firmness. Similar study has also shown scientific proof that exposure to HEV or blue light may delay recovery of the skin barrier and lead in much more substantial hyperpigmentation especially in comparison to UVB radiation.”
Which ingredients can help?
If you’re wondering what can be done to protect your skin from blue light, our experts also offered some advice.
As the research into blue light is still in its relative infancy, Dr. Weng advises that limiting screen time is probably the best way to protect your skin, explaining “For now, the most reliable interventions include limiting the amount of blue light you're exposed to by limiting sun exposure, keeping track of screen time, and using night shift mode on devices when available.”
If you are looking for particular products, and advice on which ingredients can help, Dr. Weng states that “Sunscreen is immensely important––look for formulations containing iron oxide if you are seeking extra protection against blue light, as many chemical sunscreens do not protect against that wavelength. In general, mineral sunscreens such as iron oxide, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide offer better protection against visible light. Also remember to wear sunscreen even if you don't go outside, as you will be exposed to blue light indoors through electronic devices, as well as through sunlight coming in from the windows.”
Dr. Allawh also recommends looking out for iron oxide, as she explains “Implementing products containing iron oxide into sunscreens and moisturizers is recommended for protecting your skin from blue light exposure as iron oxide absorbs visible light. Many tinted sunscreens contain iron oxide which provides the ‘tint’ in the tinted products. An easy trick is to also mix your facial moisturizer with your sunscreen to add in iron oxide and protect your skin from blue light exposure.”