Unless you are a wilderness-loving recluse or have found yourself in a spot with shoddy reception, there’s a good chance that you spend a significant chunk of your everyday life staring at a screen. And while digital eye strain is enough reason for you to take your screen time down a notch, there is another potential risk you need to consider before you post that tenth (or fiftieth) selfie for the day or stream your latest Netflix obsession. And no, we’re not just talking about going way past your data limit.
As it turns out, the blue light emitted by TV screens, computers and other digital devices can also harm your skin and—just like UVA and UVB rays—may cause premature skin aging.
What Is Blue Light?
High-energy visible (HEV) light or blue light is a high-frequency, short-wave light in the violet/blue band with wavelengths that range from 400 to 450 nanometers, explains New York City board-certified dermatologist Hadley King. It accounts for 50 percent of the sunlight spectrum and is the only part of light that is visible to the naked eye. The majority of our exposure to blue light is caused by the sun, but it’s also emitted by devices like smartphones, tablets and televisions along with fluorescent and LED bulbs from indoor lighting, adds Dr. King.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, natural exposure to blue light (from sunlight) during the day can stimulate alertness, improve memory and elevate your mood. At night, however, staring at your laptop or e-book reader before bedtime can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, making it harder to get a good night’s rest.
Does Blue Light Damage Skin?
While blue light has been proven to affect your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, the jury is still out as far as determining the extent of its effects on your skin. “We are still learning about its cellular effects on the skin, but a couple of small studies appear to show that exposure to blue light can increase the production of free radicals in the skin and result in increased pigment, redness and possibly, premature aging,” explains board-certified plastic surgeon and holistic beauty doctor Anthony Youn.
One such study conducted in 2017 shows that—like ultraviolet rays—blue light contributes to the formation of free radicals and “induce oxidative stress in live skin.” “These free radicals cause skin cells to produce enzymes that break down collagen and elastin in the skin,” adds Dr. King. It can also penetrate deeper into the skin, damaging essential proteins and resulting in wrinkles and loss of firmness. Similar research has shown evidence that exposure to HEV or blue light can delay skin barrier recovery and result in more significant hyperpigmentation when compared to UVB rays.
Does Blue Light From Digital Devices Cause Wrinkles?
When it comes to HEV emitted by smartphones and other similar devices, conclusive data is yet to be presented as to whether your selfie habit is to blame for those newly sprouted lines and dark spots. That said, a 2018 study did show that even short-term exposure to blue light from electronic devices can “increase the generation of reactive oxygen species” as skin is a primary target of oxidative stress.
Keep in mind, however, that although experts are still debating whether blue light truly wreaks havoc on your skin, texting and trawling Instagram feeds well into the night can still have negative effects on your overall eye and body health.
Is All Blue Light Bad?
It’s also important to note that while HEV light can be potentially harmful, it can also be harnessed to benefit your skin—particularly if you’re dealing with acne. “Blue light therapy has been shown to kill acne-causing bacteria. Lightwave is one such blue light therapy that is pain-free and uses high-end LEDs to distribute specific visible wavelengths of light to the problem areas,” explains New York City board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It can help those who have lesions that become inflamed and result in red and/or tender bumps, which can be filled with pus and bacteria,” she adds.
How to Protect Skin from Blue Light Damage
Reducing your exposure to blue light is the easiest way to spare your skin (and body) from its unwanted side effects. Here are some tips from Dr. King:
- Consider yellow-tinted “computer glasses” that block the blue light that most modern-day monitors emit.
- Install covers that block the blue light from smartphones, tablets and computers.
- Enable the “night mode” setting on your digital devices permanently—this significantly reduces the blue light in favor of harmless yellow light.
When it comes to skin care, sunscreen remains your best defense against photo-aging. However, it also pays to make room in your skin care routine for products that counter blue light side effects—especially if you consider the fact that your exposure to HEV light continues long after the sun has set and tends to be more up close. It is even more important if you’re dealing with rosacea and other skin conditions that flare up when exposed to the sun.
“The chemicals and pigments used to filter UVA and UVB do not filter HEV light. Therefore, look for products that contain antioxidants to help protect against oxidative stress,” suggests Dr. King. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide also work best, says Dr. Jaliman, particularly those that are infused with powerful anti-aging ingredients like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
“Antioxidants licochalcone A and glycyrrhetinic acid have been shown to work together to protect skin cells in the deeper epidermal layers from sun-induced damage. Clinical research has shown that sunscreens containing licochalcone A offer effective and extended protection from HEV light in addition to UV,” adds Dr. King.
Because of their potency and high concentration of active ingredients, serums also provide an important countermeasure against free radicals generated by blue light. “Use of topical antioxidants (like serums and moisturizers), such as vitamins C and E, is a great way to prevent the effects of blue light from aging and damaging your skin,” says Dr. Youn.
Best Products for Blue Light Protection
Ready to add blue light protection to your daily skin care routine? Here are our top picks for best products that keep blue light–induced skin-aging at bay.