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But while many people have hopped on the trend citing digital eyestrain, disrupted sleep cycle, and/or eye health concerns as the reason(s) behind their specs, far fewer people have looked into—or even heard about—the effects that blue light can have on our skin.
It seems obvious now, but when sitting in front of screens all day, it’s not just our eyes that are exposed to the light coming from our devices—it’s our entire face. This is why in the past year, entire skincare brands devoted to blue light protection have been founded, and why more and more products are listing blue light protection as a benefit. But are these products necessary? Or are they like what their eyewear counterparts are now being claimed to be: just another a fad created by the marketing machine?
Blue light is the highest-energy part of the visible light spectrum and is therefore the closest to the ultraviolet (UV) light spectrum. We’ve been aware of the negative effects of UV light, like skin cancer and skin aging, for ages, which is of course why dermatologists constantly recommend including a sunscreen in your daily skincare routine, rain or shine. And although blue light is not known to cause skin cancer, there is scientific evidence that suggests that it contributes to skin aging. “It does this by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the skin,” says Kenneth Howe, a dermatologist in New York City. “These ROS, or free radicals, in turn, cause oxidative damage within the skin.” This oxidative damage can ultimately lead to the loss of collagen and elastic fibres, resulting in a reduction of elasticity and the development of fine wrinkles. Some studies have also linked skin’s blue light exposure to pigmentation changes.
Before you start thinking about wearing a face shield while you scroll from now on, it is important to consider not only the overall potential effects of blue light exposure on our skin, but also the strength of the source of that exposure, because these effects are dose-dependent. While many of us do spend countless hours on screens these days which contributes to our cumulative exposure over a long period of time, the intensity of blue light emitted from devices is much less than that of the sun, which, if you go outside at all, is by far the main source of blue light in our lives. Some reports have shown that “eight hours of screen time can be equivalent to 20 minutes of sun exposure.” While the exposure from screens is certainly significant, especially as many people are on computers for work day in and day out, it bears repeating that the sun is a far more potent source of these wavelengths of light and should not be forgotten.
Research into blue light and how it affects the various parts of our bodies has come a long way, but of course there is always more to learn. We anticipate that legislation governing blue light protection will continue to change in the upcoming years, but for now it seems clear that there is at least a link between exposure and skin aging. While we don’t believe you need to devote a whole portion of your skincare routine to blue light protection, here are three easy steps you can take to help you in the battle against your skin’s newest antagonist.
1. Engage your device’s night mode.
Sometimes called night shift or night light, this setting will reduce the blue light emittance from your computer, tablet or phone screen. It will typically allow you to set the hours you want it to be activated, which would usually be after sunset until sunrise, as exposure to blue light during the day is actually beneficial to our sleep-wake cycle. If you’re after maximum skin protection, you can consider leaving night mode on at all times (but adjust accordingly if your sleep rhythm is affected), or you can elect to keep your screen brightness on the lower end overall, which reduces all light emissions, including blue light, but not as much as night mode would.
2. Use a physical sunscreen.
As odd as it may seem to use sunscreen even when you plan to stay indoors all day, the effects of blue light mean that there is more reason than ever to incorporate this skincare essential into your routine. More specifically though, a physical (or sometimes referred to as mineral) rather than chemical sunscreen is the key here. The most common active ingredients in physical sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which Howe explains will “work by reflecting light—whether it’s UV radiation or visible light,” so that it is not able to penetrate the skin. In contrast, chemical sunscreens are only targeted to protect the skin from UV rays and have no regulated efficacy against visible light.
3. Introduce antioxidants into your skincare routine.
Antioxidants are the answer to the problem of blue light-generated ROS as they will neutralise them before any damage can be done to your skin. Although device optimisation and sunscreen application are excellent defensive strategies to keep your face well-protected, an antioxidant-rich skincare product will be your go-to offensive tactic to save your skin from any errant rays that manage to slip through. Antioxidants have been star anti-aging skincare ingredients for years, and there is no need for these to be blue light-specific.
+ Words: Dorice Lee, Luxiders Magazine Contributor