Health experts have known about digital eye strain for a while, and the potential for all that blue light from digital devices to do eye damage. But can screens damage your skin, too?
As if exposure to UV rays from sunlight wasn’t bad enough, the skin has another enemy trying to steal away its youth and health: high-energy visible (HEV) light.
Also referred to as blue light, HEV light is primarily from the sun, but it’s also emitted by the screens of your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Today, more than ever, we are being bombarded with blue light from our digital devices. Just try to think of the longest chunk of time you spent away from a screen in the past day or two. We are talking laptop, phone, TV, iPad—you get the point. Probably not much more than 30 minutes to an hour, aside from sleeping.
The worsening effects
First, what exactly is blue light?
High-energy blue light rays are part of the visible light spectrum—not to be confused with UVA and UVB—and we are exposed to them via sunlight and light bulbs (fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and LED) in addition to our digital screens.
In fact, the sun is our largest source of blue light, dermatologists say. So, we've always been exposed to blue light to an extent.
Because we are glued to our screens and smartphones all day every day, a ton of experts have spent a shed load of time, money and resources researching how it's affecting our body and mind.
In terms of how it affects our skin, it’s not that well understood at the moment. It’s an area that we’re learning more about all the time. But what we do know for sure is that if you’re prone to or at risk of getting pigmentation, then blue light could worsen or trigger it.
One example of this is with a skin condition called melasma, which mainly affects women and has been thought to be caused by a combination of our hormones (which tend to flare during pregnancy or in women who take the pill) and exposure to UV light.
There has been increasing evidence in recent years that blue light in particular might be provoking melasma or making it even harder to treat, experts report .
Blue light degrades enzymes within the skin which results in damage to your existing collagen fibers, plus it then also decreases your collagen production.
When you consider that your body’s collagen production begins to drop off as we age, this is certainly less than ideal.
Further to this, it also increases skin pigmentation because it stimulates tyrosinase, and causes oxidation of lipids in your skin which causes free radicals.
In simple terms; it damages your existing collagen, decreases your production of new collagen, and stimulates premature skin aging symptoms. Nice, huh?! Or not…
The potential is there
So, does blue light from digital devices really damage skin?
The short answer: maybe. Most research has focused on the effects of ultraviolet light on the skin. UVB rays typically cause skin damage by injuring DNA, while UVA rays trigger the formation of reactive oxygen species that can promote skin aging.
Only more recently has research begun to emerge showing that visible light also has the potential to damage the skin, contributing to redness, wrinkling, and hyperpigmentation, according to dermatologists.
Studies have already shown that blue light can penetrate deeper into the skin than UV rays, which can’t be a good thing. While we’re not exactly sure how it may affect everyone’s skin just yet, it is something scientists put under the umbrella term called ‘pollution damage’, where our exposure to it is almost unavoidable, and the effects could be cumulative.
With uncertain topics like this, protecting yourself against them is a bit like buying insurance: you don’t really know what you are paying for and you might not see the impact of the pollutants now because you are 20 or 30, but when you’re 60 or 70, who knows how it might have impacted your skin.
A major stressor
While experts aren't confident saying that blue light from our digital devices is directly damaging skin, many can agree that it's messing with our skin in more of an indirect manner.
What dermatologists notice with their younger clients who tend to be on their devices a lot and have no boundaries with work is that their stress levels are through the roof. It's known that this type of blue light at night interferes with sleep, and sleep is vital for skin health—it's when our bodies repair.
Experts agree on the fact that poor sleep can be a major stressor on the body and the skin. Exposure to blue light in the hours prior to bedtime adversely affects circadian rhythm and sleep quality, and poor sleep quality can contribute to dry skin, wrinkles, and inflammation, among other problems.
In this case, a blue-light-blocking skincare product or antioxidant-rich serum obviously won't help you out. You need to shut down your devices earlier or cut off the blue light at the source.
Doctors recommend using blue-light-blocking screen protectors for phones and laptops or downloading a filter app that stops your device from emitting blue light. But first and foremost, less screen time should be a priority.