Blue light really should fall into the same category as metallic eyeshadows of the same hue: best avoided. While our smartphones and laptops have been a Godsend over the course of Covid, the blue light they emit may actually be causing some pretty serious skin damage. Prevention and protection are key. Here’s a guide to get the most from your devices, without harming your best asset.
What exactly is blue light?
Blue light (aka High Energy Visible or HEV light) is a high-energy, short-wavelength light that naturally surrounds us every day. The main source of blue light exposure is the sun. However, blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) from screens – mobile phones, tablets, computers and televisions – as well as fluorescent bulbs, also produce narrow concentrated peaks of light. In these cases, the light from LEDs is almost indistinguishable from white light, or daylight.
This is exactly what blue light does to your skin
According to Australian Cosmetic Physician Dr Naomi McCullum, “Latest studies suggest that blue light can penetrate more deeply than both UVA and UVB rays. It can extend past the epidermis deep within the dermal layer of tissue, where it encounters collagen and elastin. These are the two proteins responsible for giving skin its resilience and elasticity.”
When collagen and elastin weaken due to free radical damage, the signs of ageing accelerate. This is also known as photoaging. Skin loses firmness, and over time this can lead to fine lines, wrinkles and deeper furrows.
“Blue light may also increase the amount of DNA damage, cell and tissue death. It also can cause hyperpigmentation – sun spots or dark spots – by affecting the production of melanin in your skin cells,” explains Dr Naomi.
Blue light’s documented impairment on the circadian system (or “internal 24-hour body clock”) and eye physiology also consequently affect skin.
“The additional eye strain caused by blue light exposure can lead to the development of pronounced lines and wrinkles near the eyes and between the brows. Furthermore, if it disrupts your circadian rhythm, lack of sleep can appear as dark circles or puffy eye bags,” says Dr Naomi.
Concerningly, blue light harm is not exclusive to skin; with Harvard Health research identifying blue light damage as more than just aesthetics. Studies suggest it may also contribute to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
So, does blue light ever get the, well … green light? In some cases. Blue light therapy can be used to treat the inflammation associated with bacterial acne. However, reactions created in the skin by excess blue light can be responsible for inflammation, redness, and swelling. This may also impair skin barrier functions, leading to loss of moisture retention.
How to protect yourself
In an age of WFH and Netflix and Chill, avoiding blue light is easier said than done. And while it may seem impossible to bypass its effects – particularly with the pandemic heightening screen time – there are measures to help minimise the dermal damage.
Some of the simple actions you can take on a daily basis to protect yourself from extended blue light exposure include:
- Using dim red lights for night lights as they’re less likely to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin. Switching to night mode in the evening on your mobile also helps to filter the blue/green wavelength emitted by the screens.
- If your work involves using a lot of electronic devices, try wearing blue-blocking glasses. Oscar Wylee has an amazing range that aims to eliminate digital eye strain.
- Taking breaks from screens is important for so many reasons. These include improving sleep, productivity and learning, boosting present-moment awareness, and deepening social connections. Given our increased access to smartphones, the average person is now spending more than 10 hours a day in front of a screen. In fact, a recent study conducted by Calming Blankets found that 83 percent of 18-30-year-olds use screen devices frequently before bed!
- Try and dedicate one evening a week to a good book in place of a digital device to protect your skin as well as your eyes from blue light radiation. (Bonus: it will help you wind down and promote a good night’s sleep).
According to Sussan Kaufman (the beauty pioneer behind the skincare brand of the same name), your beauty routine can also play its part in minimising blue light damage. “Several studies have shown that Ectoin is able to prevent oxidative damage in skin induced by visible/blue light,” she says.
This is because Ectoin and Q10 have an intensive moisturising effect and promote collagen production, minimising premature skin ageing and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
“Highly active extracts from the Butterfly Bush have also been proven to protect the skin from the damaging effects of light rays, infrared rays and blue light,” adds Susan.
“Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that specifically targets pigmentation caused by blue light rays. It works to help tone the skin while stimulating its defence mechanisms for a healthy glow.”
Similarly, Dr Naomi also recommends antioxidants as part of your daily routine, such as Vitamin C, B3 or E.
How soon will you see results? Free radical damage is cumulative and of course, will show over time, so it really is about preventing damage and protecting the skin, while supporting the repair process on a daily basis. Previous photodamage needs to be addressed with more potent anti-ageing ingredients, such as vitamin A, and a committed skincare regime.