By now you’ve probably heard that it's best to shut down all screens at least an hour before bed. But at the end of a long day, who can resist a cozy-in-bed Insta rabbit hole? Or, maybe you’ve seen special screens or other blue light-blocking products advertised on your Amazon homepage but continued to scroll on by (oh, the irony).
Real talk: It’s actually paramount to stop and reflect on how the things we mindlessly use daily are actually affecting us. Our eyes and skin are constantly exposed to electronic screens, from our phones, to our laptops, to tablets and TVs. We’re facing electricity and artificially emitted light—specifically blue light—at rates far more than any preceding generation. So, what does that mean for us?
A lot of research has been done regarding how blue light can affect our eye health and vision, but there's less evidence supporting how it may affect our skin. And yet, there are blue light-blocking skincare products being marketed to us at a growing rate. But are these products actually necessary and helpful, or simply a marketing ploy? We decided to investigate.
What Is Blue Light?
To get a better understanding of what exactly blue light is, we spoke with Gary Heiting, O.D., and member of the Eyesafe Vision Advisory Board. He explained that visible light (aka radiant energy that can be perceived or seen with our eyes) consists of a range of different-colored light rays. When the lights are combined together, as they are in both sunlight and artificial light (like street lamps, light bulbs, and LED screens) the colors are seen as "white" light.
Meet the Expert
Gary Heiting, O.D. has more than 30 years experience as an eye care provider, health educator, and consultant to the eyewear industry. His clinical experience includes primary care positions at several practices and as director of education and director of product development at Pentax Vision, Inc. in Minneapolis. His special interests include nearsightedness, myopia control, and the effects of blue light on the eye.
While each color of visible light has its own range of energy and wavelengths, Heiting says, “Blue light has the highest energy of all components of visible light—nearly the same amount as some ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are associated with skin cancer, cataracts, and other eye health problems. Though blue light has less energy than UV, it penetrates deeper into the eye—all the way to the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eyeball."
Because of this, as Heiting notes, many studies support the fact that blue light has the potential to cause damage to cells found in the retina that are responsible for vision. He says, "Though much more research is needed to determine the minimum amount of blue light intensity and duration required to cause retina damage and vision loss and whether the amount of blue light people are exposed to from their electronic devices over the course of many years is capable of causing these problems—many eye doctors are concerned about the potential long-term effects of blue light on our eyes."
It’s also worth noting that blue light has also been shown to cause or even worsen dry eye, and is associated with eye strain and discomfort. What's more, too much blue light exposure can also throw off our circadian rhythm thereby affecting our sleep and sleep quality
If it’s been shown that blue light can, depending on exposure and intensity, damage our eyes and vision, what, then, is it doing to our skin?
How Does Blue Light Affect Your Skin?
The good news is that, according to Heiting, "Blue light doesn't appear to be capable of causing sunburn or skin cancer as UV can." In fact, sometimes, blue light can even be beneficial to our skin—but only in controlled ways.
Controlled use of blue light (aka blue light therapy) is actually used by dermatologists to treat acne, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and other skin conditions. Heiting explains it has also been used to facilitate quicker wound healing and is used in treating superficial skin cancers. However, there are concerns surrounding what everyday exposure from daily electronic devices is doing to our skin.
Although it may not lead to more serious skin concerns, Josua Zeichner, M.D. says that blue light still has degenerative effects. “While it does not penetrate into the skin as deep as ultraviolet light, it has been associated with premature aging of the skin," he explains. It has also been shown to promote free radical damage which stimulates pigment production and can lead to dark spots.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D. is the the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Heiting notes, "Uncontrolled blue light exposure may induce oxidative changes in healthy skin that might cause premature aging effects, such as wrinkling, and potentially other harmful effects." He cites a recent article in The Telegraph, where dermatologists in both the US and UK shared clinical observations which have led them to believe that excessive use of camera flashes on smartphones can cause visible skin damage. The study concluded that "exposure to blue light can lead to different levels of damage in human eyes and skin.”
There's also a recent study that found that short-term exposure to light emitted from electronic devices (iPhone 8+, iPhone 6, and first-generation iPad) irradiated at the manufacturers' recommended reading distances and at 1 cm on human skin cells can increase the generation of reactive oxygen species, which is linked to skin aging. However, the long-term effects associated with repeated exposures of electronic devices are unknown.
Do You Really Need a Blue Light-Blocking Product?
While more research needs to be done, it's worthwhile to take preventative measures. As Heiting points out, "It’s unlikely people’s use of computers, tablets, phones, and other blue light-emitting devices (including televisions) will decrease in the years ahead. And until large, long-term clinical trials can be conducted, it’s impossible to know just how much damage these sources of blue light are contributing to aging and disease."
First things first, he recommends choosing electronic personal devices that are “low blue light” certified. He explains that the electronics industry is becoming more aware of the potential risks associated with blue light exposure, so they are starting to introduce devices that emit less high-energy blue light in their displays. (Screen protectors and activating any built-in blue light reducing software can help, too.) But if you’d like to take things a step further, as far as your skin is concerned, Zeichner encourages protecting your skin as you would your eyes. He says, “Blue light protection may come in the form of serums, or may be provided within your traditional moisturizers with sunscreen. Just as you would wear sunscreen, make sure to protect your skin from high energy visible light each morning.”
Blue Light-Blocking Products
Because the evolving research continues to suggest long-term exposure may lead to damage, blue light-blocking skincare is starting to trend. Here are some of our favorites.
This hydrating, lightweight moisturizer protects your skin from both the indoor and outdoor light damage you encounter each day, all while evening your skin tone and adding a subtle radiant shine.
When applied under your favorite serum or moisturizer, this hydrating hyaluronic serum is infused with a combination of botanicals that offer hydration and plumping, while also shielding your skin from visible effects of blue light pollution. Use two pumps both morning and night.
This multitasking face mist is designed to help rehydrate your skin while protecting against what they call "digital aging" from blue light exposure. It utilizes radiation-resistant ingredients from Spain that work to activate the skin's sensors to prepare for exposure while repairing dark spots, wrinkles, and dryness caused by photoaging. Suitable for all skin types, spritz the face three times each day.
Because research has pretty much solidified that blue light can damage our eyes and eyesight, there is a plethora of blue light protectant eyewear on the market. And while it can be hard to choose from so many offerings of trendy frames and silhouettes, it makes sense to opt for a larger style with more surface area protection to protect the delicate skin around the eyes, too.
We love these oversized frames by Quay Australia x JLo. The metal, square frame feature 58mm lenses that block harmful blue light from your screens while serving as a fashionable accessory at the same time. It's a win/win.
Our use of electronics and screens likely isn't slowing down any time soon. In fact, it's probably safe to say that as technology evolves, our screen time will only increase. While researchers still have some more work to do to examine how blue light exposure can truly affect the skin over time, what we do know so far is enough to make us think protecting our skin isn't such a bad idea. By taking preventative steps now, we can continue to keep our skin healthy and show it some extra love while leaving it to the scientists to figure out exactly what we're up against.