We’ve never spent more time on digital devices – from phones, to laptops, to watching TV in bed, we’re glued to our screens. But what’s it doing to our skin? And should we be worried? We enlist the experts to debunk any blue light myths.
We’re spending more time than ever looking at our phones, computers and TV screens. We know it’s bad for our sleep, but what about our skin?
Otherwise known as high-energy visible (HEV) light, blue light is mainly emitted from the sun but, as we now know, it’s also produced from digital screens. Since we’re getting significantly more blue-light exposure than we used to from the sun alone (Australians spend at least 9.4 hours in front of a screen every day, which has increased since the pandemic), there’s been increasingly more research invested into what the side effects may be – particularly when it comes to our skin.
So, we asked the experts for the lowdown – from blue light specific skincare to those blocking-glasses, what’s worth being worried about, and what actually works?
Listen to our Healthy-ish Podcast episode: Is blue light as bad for your skin as it sounds?
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What is blue light?
If physics is your jam, then you’ll know it’s all in the wavelength. Blue light can be used in LED-light therapy to help treat acne and inflammation, but on a different wavelength (380nm to 780nm) it’s considered damaging – much like the UVA and UVB rays from the sun.“The effects of blue light are largely dependent on the amount and wavelength, and can be toxic at wavelengths shorter than 453nm, however they are non-toxic at lower levels,” explains Emma Hobson, Dermalogica’s director of Education Asia Pacific.
“Research has found that blue light from the sun is considerably higher than that from digital-screen exposure.” The good news is experts believe one way to help protect our skin from blue light is through natural iron oxides such as zinc and titanium, which can be found in physical sunscreens and mineral make-up.
Synergie Skin Mineral Whip ($69, at Synergie Skin) and Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense ($77, at Dermalogica)
What’s the damage?
According to Hobson, blue light can really mess with our skin. “It has the ability to penetrate the skin all the way to the lower fatty layer and has been deemed to be a source of oxidative stress, hyperpigmentation and collagen breakdown,” she says. “Studies have also shown that blue light can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm and inhibit skin repair, as well as increase DNA damage and inflammation.”
Founder of Synergie Skin, Terri Vinson, adds that scientific evidence points to the generation of free-radical damage, particularly from solar blue light. Free radicals play havoc on our cells and result in premature ageing and the breakdown of collagen and elastin in our skin – you could be exposed to them after just one hour spent using a device. “HEV light, or blue light, directly impacts our natural response to inflammation and reduces our ability to repair and heal the skin barrier,” says Vinson.
“Blue light also alters normal melanin production and may explain why some individuals with uneven skin tone and melasma still suffer with hyperpigmentation, despite diligently using high levels of sunscreen that provide UVA and UVB protection, but no HEV protection. It’s even been linked to direct damage to the mitochondria, the vital ‘mini organs’ in our cells that provide all the energy we need to perform every function in our bodies.”
But before you freak out, Vinson notes there are yet to be any compelling studies on the long-term effects of blue light from smart devices and its impact on skin. “The amount of HEV light emitted by devices is only a fraction of the intensity of the HEV light emitted by the sun,” she says. “But the jury is still out on just how damaging devices are on our skin and eyes. You’d need to be in front of your smartphone for 10 hours to equal just 15 minutes of blue-light exposure from the sun.” To protect your complexion against free radicals, look to antioxidants as they neutralise the damage and are easy to find in both skin care and make-up.
Chantecaille Blue Light Protection Hyaluronic Serum ($240, at Mecca) and Liberty Belle Superhero Antioxidant Moisturiser With Anti-Pollution & Blue Light Defence ($138, at Liberty Belle)
Let’s talk tech
Whether you believe in blue-light protection or not, there’s some simple (and free) ways to cut down on exposure. Some smartphones, including iPhones, have a “night shift” setting that switches from blue to yellow light. You can also dim the brightness on both your phone and computer screen, or install smart tinting software like Screen Shader and f.lux to help limit eye strain. There are filtering screen protectors you can stick on to all of your devices, too.
Paula’s Choice Triple Algae Pollution Shield ($41, at Paula’s Choice) and Endota Spa New Age BlueLight Defence HydroMist ($45, at Endota Spa)
A note on eye health
You may have seen filtering and blocking glasses on the market, but it’s important to be aware there’s currently no Australian standards for these – or screen protectors. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) says there’s no evidence to suggest normal environmental exposure to blue light, including from digital-screen technology, causes damage to eyesight, going further to say, “Filtering out the blue light from screens is not necessary in general use.”
However, it does recommend cutting down on screen time before bed to reduce interrupting your circadian rhythm (and your beauty sleep), and to focus on easing eye strain from screens rather than light exposure.