You’ve likely heard that the light from your smartphone, computer, and other tech-y devices is the latest skin saboteur on the block. But how stressed should you be? We asked top derms to weigh in.
To start, let’s go back to high school science class for a minute: There’s the spectrum of light that you can’t see (UV rays from the sun), and then there’s the visible light spectrum, which you can see. Blue light rays fall within the latter, and have the shortest wavelength and highest energy, which is why blue light is also referred to as HEV, or high energy visible light, explains dermatologist Rhonda Klein, MD, Partner at Modern Dermatology of Connecticut.
That high energy means it can penetrate even deeper into the skin than the sun’s UVA or UVB rays, she adds. And while the largest source of blue light is the sun, all of your electronic screens — phones, tablets, computers — emit it as well. The amount of time we spend staring at these screens is exactly what has brought the issue of blue light to the forefront, but more on that in a minute.
So, how does blue light affect the skin?
Essentially, in a very similar way that sun’s UV rays do. In other words, it’s not good. “Blue light can induce oxidative stress and generate free radicals,” says Deanne Robinson, MD, Co-Founder and President at Modern Dermatology of Connecticut, and a member of The Women’s Dermatologic Society. “There’s also evidence that it can induce more pigmentation than UV radiation, and more specifically, that it can worsen pigment disorders such as melasma.”
But it’s not just your skin that’s affected; it’s well known that blue light can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms and make it harder for you to fall asleep (which is exactly why you’re not supposed to scroll through Insta’ before bedtime). It’s also been shown to be damaging to your eyes, especially if you stare at a computer screen all day.
Should you be worried?
“The evidence is mounting, but more studies need to be done to further elucidate its exact effects on our skin,” says Dr. Robinson. Take the connection between blue light and the melasma: What’s not known is how much exposure is necessary and how close that exposure needs to be in order to affect the skin. In other words, “we don’t know how many hours and how close your skin must be to the blue light for it to be an issue,” points out Heidi Waldorf, MD, President of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics and a member of The Women’s Dermatologic Society. Basically, the jury is still out (sort of), but the derms we spoke with overall agreed that it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially because there’s now no shortage of ways to protect yourself.
How exactly do you do that?
Obviously, limiting the amount of time you spend staring at any kind of screen is helpful, but we get that that’s (much) easier said than done. Glasses with blue-light blocking technology, like this pair from Privé Revaux, subdue digital eye strain and the effects of blue light, and as an added bonus, many also offer glare reduction,. Blue light-filtering screen covers are a great way to protect both your eyes and skin, adds Dr. Waldorf, and then of course there are skin care products, too. Basically, the same formula applies as when you’re protecting your skin from UV rays: sunscreen plus antioxidants make for the ultimate dream team. More and more sunscreen formulations are now touting blue light protection, though keep in mind that physical blockers are best for shielding your skin from blue light, notes Dr. Klein. We’re big fans of the three options below.
And, just like antioxidants can help combat the free radicals formed by exposure to UV rays, so too can they help add an extra layer of defense against blue light. The new SkinMedica Lumivive System ($265; skinmedica.com) comes with two serums, one to use in the morning as a protective barrier, the other to use at night to help repair and detoxify skin. Dr. Robinson also likes the Pure BioDerm Super Antioxidant ($64; amazon.com), which has a powerful combo of vitamin C, ferulic acid, and phloretin.
But don’t some skin treatments use blue light?
If you’re confused because you’ve seen blue light touted as an acne treatment, we don’t blame you — we were, too. Yes, it’s often used to kill bacteria associated with acne, which can seem counterintuitive, but the major difference is the total dose and amount of exposure, points out Dr. Robinson.
The bottom line?
There’s no need to get crazy stressed yet, but since you should — and hopefully already are — protecting your skin from UV rays, adding a little extra protection to shield it from blue light isn’t a bad idea. Luckily, that’s fairly easy to do.