As if you need another reason to put down your phone, it turns out that blue light not only affects your eyes and makes it harder to fall asleep, it has a negative effect on your skin too.
Blue light emitted from the sun, although to a lesser degree, is also emitted by screens as a form of high energy visible light (HEV).
Think of it as UV rays worse twin but indoors and outdoors, day and night.
Let’s talk about UV for a bit. We know that both UVB and UVA rays can damage the skin. From skin cancer to dark spots and premature wrinkles, UV is highly damaging.
However, scientists have a newfound interest in Blue Light protection. You may be tempted to brush this off as “just another fad” and ignore it. But you’ll be shocked to discover, the effects of Blue Light are much worse than UV.
Can blue light really cause hyperpigmentation and wrinkling?
For some people, visible light like blue light actually produces darker and longer-lasting hyperpigmentation than UVA rays, states the findings of one study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Another study suggests that blue light can stimulate the production of free radicals in the skin, which accelerates the appearance of ageing.
But wait, there’s more.
These free radicals are notorious for breaking down collagen and elastin, creating dark spots on the skin, and may even contribute to acne.
The effect of blue light on the skin
The problem with blue light is that the damage creeps up on you. You don’t “feel” its effects or see immediate changes in your body, unlike getting a sunburn after laying by the pool under the scorching sun for an hour.
Fun fact: Eight hours of screen time can be equivalent to 20 minutes of sun exposure.
Because you’re holding these screens much closer to your face, you’re allowing high-frequency Blue Light to penetrate deeper into your skin.
By the time its effects are visible, you would have already experienced an equivalent of months-long exposure to serious damage for your skin. The good thing is, proper blue light protection can prevent all that.
How does it work
Blue light increases melanin production in a process called melanogenesis. It’s a reaction in the body whereby there’s an overproduction of melanin, resulting in the skin becoming discoloured.
Who should actually worry about blue light?
Considering what we do and don’t know about blue light, if you have melasma or are at a higher risk of developing other types of hyperpigmentation, you should take more precautions.
Melasma is a condition that’s proven difficult to treat because it’s reactive with so many triggers. So it’s best to protect yourself as much as possible to prevent it from worsening.
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Blue light’s not all bad. It has its benefits too.
Knowing how blue light has an effect on our body, we can use that to our advantage to treat certain skin conditions too. In some severe cases of psoriasis, acne and keratosis, blue light at high intensities can help.
Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition where there’s a disproportionate increase in hormone levels. When skin bacteria (P. acnes) is trapped under the sebum-producing glands, the skin swells, causing what we see as red spots, blisters and cysts. P. acnes can be controlled by blue light.
Of course, it goes without saying that these are specifically recommended doses by doctors and the patient’s progress is monitored. So holding a phone to your face won’t exactly help remove your pimples.
Exposing your skin to blue light from the sun and digital devices, will surely damage your skin more than anything though.
Other skin problems
Still confused whether blue light is good or bad? It’s important to note that many of these blue light treatment studies are small.
For the rest of us exposed to blue light from the sun and digital devices, chances are it’s going to damage your skin more than anything.
Here are the best ways to prevent skin damage from blue light
Since forgoing smartphones entirely isn’t a viable option, here’s what you can do to prevent all the skin damage associated with blue light.
1. Don’t skimp on sunscreen
Apply sunscreen everyday. Even on cloudy days, and while indoors. But not just any sunscreen.
A big mistake people make is assume that their sunscreen is good enough, without checking the label properly. Make sure your sunscreen has these properties:
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen: Ideally, you should already be using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF50+, PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) 15+, to protect you from both UVA and UVB.
- Blue light (HEV) sunscreen: Experts say for a skincare product to claim Blue Light protection, it must provide more than 35 percent protection.
There are many sunblocks in the market that claim to protect against Blue Light but in reality most are merely topical antioxidants that counteract against the effects of Blue Light but are not Real Blue Light Blocker. Always check for Blue Light Protection Rating on the sunblock label for genuine protection against Blue Light.
How about physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens? Which is better?
Well, the best sun protection cream is one that possesses the actives of both.
Ensure your sunscreen has at least 2 of each:
Chemical sunscreen ingredients: Homosalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate
Physical sunscreen ingredients: Titanium dioxide, Silica, Zinc oxide
You might be interested in: Ask the doctor: What SPF sunscreen should I use?
2. Look for skincare products with antioxidants
It’s helpful to look for products that have antioxidants in its product list because they neutralize free radicals and not only prevent damage, but repair it, too.
And when it comes to antioxidants, there’s strength in numbers. One ingredient alone isn’t good enough. Combining top-notch antioxidants, for blue light protection, with other skin-beneficial ingredients can give you remarkable results.
Here are some essential ingredients to look out for:
- Niacinamide (or Vitamin B3)
- Retinol (or other Vitamin A derivatives like retinyl palmitate/retinyl acetate)
- Citric acid (or other Vitamin C derivatives like ascorbyl palmitate/sodium ascorbyl phosphate)
- Tocopherol (or other Vitamin E derivatives like tocopherol acetate/alpha-tocopherol)
3. Get some tech to block against blue light
Blue light protection accessories include using a blue light filter for your computers and tablets. Most phones come with blue light settings too, so use that function!
One more thing, consider purchasing glasses with a blue light lens to help thwart eye strain. And of course, prevent under eye wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
The first thing to know here is that there is still much research to be done regarding the effect of blue light on the skin and the extent of damage it can cause.
But it’s safe to say, if you deal with hyperpigmentation or are worried about managing signs of aging, it’s always worth taking preventive measures.
If you only remember one thing from this, it’s this: Start with a blue light sunscreen!