After the year we’ve had, you’re probably spending more time looking at screens than ever before. Working from behind a laptop, FaceTiming your family, or simply unwinding with an e-book, technology has cemented itself as a crucial tool to stay in touch. But have you ever considered the effect that the light omitted from these screens could be having on your skin? Once thought negligible, there is ongoing research to suggest that the blue light emitted from your favourite devices could, in fact, add up to cause significant damage.
The biggest concern is blue light’s effect on skin ageing, though it’s also understood to exacerbate hyperpigmentation and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, both of which impact overall skin tone and appearance. A rogue free radical that we invite into our homes, is blue light yet another thing to be defending against? Many skincare brands seem to think so, with antioxidant products hitting the market designed to support the protection of the skin from environmental stressors indoors and outdoors.
What Is Blue Light?
Blue light (also referred to as High Energy Visible or HEV light), is one of the many colours in the visible light spectrum. Blue light has shorter wavelengths (just a little bit shorter than the more well-known UV rays) and higher energy than other colours. Emitted from the sun, blue light can also be found coming from the LEDs in our screens.
Blue light is understood to have many important functions, from boosting alertness to informing our sleep cycle. In fact, in therapeutic doses blue light has an antimicrobial effect that can be used to treat acne and support the skin’s microbiome. However, too much blue light has been discovered to have negative effects on the skin, as well as overall eye, brain and body function.
How Does Blue Light Affect Our Skin?
While blue light is not thought to cause cancer in the skin, it does have the ability to penetrate deeper than cancer-causing UV rays. Blue light can cause oxidative damage to the skin by stimulating reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and is able to penetrate all the way to the dermis where our precious collagen and elastin are found. The resulting loss of firmness and visible lines are a recipe for premature ageing.
Beyond the understood impact on skin ageing, blue light can also have an effect on the amount of melanin produced by the skin, a process known as melagenosis. This can result in hyperpigmentation (potentially even more so than with UV rays) and is a particular risk factor for people with darker skin tones who already have more melanin in their skin. This may show on the skin as dark spots, melasma, or increased scarring from post-acne inflammation.
Understood as an important factor in our wake-sleep cycle, blue light contributes to our natural circadian rhythms. We know that beauty sleep is crucial, and studies show that too much blue light (especially at night) can have a detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of shut eye we’re getting. Beyond that, there is research suggesting that blue light can affect the circadian rhythm of skin cells themselves, essentially confusing the cells on whether it is daytime (time to protect against free radicals such as light and pollution) or nighttime (time to rest and restore). Yet another reason to avoid that late night scrolling!
How Can We Protect Against Blue Light?
If even reading this article on a screen has you worried, fret not - there are proven ways to drastically reduce the havoc that blue light is causing to your skin.
The first is to try and limit the amount of blue light reaching your skin at all. You may have heard of blue light glasses, and these same physical filters can be bought for laptop, tablet and phone screens. An even easier fix? Turn your device to night mode - a setting on most phones that is designed to support sleep by limiting blue light at night (or all day!)
The next is to include products in your routine that protect and support your skin against blue light: sunscreen and antioxidants.
Just as sunscreen protects from harmful UV rays, it can deflect the blue light emitted from screens. If being told to wear sunscreen indoors has ever felt like a stretch to you, here is a reason to make it a habit. Physical mineral sunscreens (such as ones containing zinc oxide) are considered especially effective at literally deflecting the blue light from your skin.
And to neutralise the damage of blue light that does reach the skin, antioxidants are key. As well as eating an antioxidant-rich diet, topical products are crucial in reducing oxidative stress in the skin. Antioxidants interrupt harmful free radicals before they can cause damage deep within the skin, supporting the skin’s natural protective function.
Protecting your skin from the ageing effects of blue light may seem like just another thing to worry about, but the good news is that your sun-protective routine is probably already doing a lot of the work. And seeing as you may spend more time in front of a screen than out in the sun, it’s just as well! By reducing the amount of blue light that reaches your skin and harnessing the power of antioxidants to mitigate the effect of the rest, blue light won’t stand a chance.