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?
What is blue light?
Blue light, part of the spectrum of visible light, is a high-energy, short-wavelength light (not to be confused with UVA or UVB rays), says Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.
The main source of the blue light we’re exposed to is the sun, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, we also get a significant dose from our screens and indoor lighting.
“One of the reasons that blue light has become a concern is that High Energy Visible (HEV) light, which typically refers to blue wavelengths on the visible light spectrum, not only comes from sun exposure but also from computer screens, cell phones, and other digital devices,” Marchbein explains. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of us are spending more time indoors and in front of screens than normal, it’s important to understand the effects of blue light.
“Blue light has been reported to contribute to eye strain as well as cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye diseases,” Marchbein says.
But blue light isn’t all bad. “Blue light plays a critical role in maintaining good health, as it regulates our body’s circadian rhythm — our natural sleep-wake cycle,” Meenakashi Gupta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, previously told Allure. “Blue light also elevates mood and helps memory and cognitive function.”
Is blue light damaging your skin?
Recently, you might have noticed some of your favorite skin-care brands coming out with blue-light-fighting products — so, does that mean it’s damaging your skin? The best evidence we have is that blue light “contributes to brown spots on the skin and hyperpigmentation such as melasma, and possibly to photoaging and the breakdown of collagen, which leads to wrinkles and skin laxity,” says Marchbein.
Research on how blue light affects your skin is ongoing, but what dermatologists know so far doesn’t look good. One small, peer-reviewed study of the effects of blue light on the skin, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2010, found that exposing skin to the amount of blue light we get from the sun caused more pigment, redness, and swelling than when the same person’s skin was exposed to comparable levels of UVA rays. Ten years later, this early study is still the one our dermatologist experts referenced.
Blue light plays a critical role in maintaining good health, as it regulates our body’s circadian rhythm.
In the study, the effects were only observed in people with darker skin tones, but the researchers noted that pigmentation also lasted longer. “This study absolutely makes us realize that blue light produces visible skin change, including redness and pigmentation,” Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami and co-founder of Dr. Loretta skin care, tells Allure.
“There is a paucity of study on the damage blue light does on the skin,” says Ciraldo. “Instead [of blue light from screens], most dermatologists are much more familiar with small, measured doses of blue light as a therapeutic approach for both precancerous skin lesions or acne.”
Another (very small) study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2015, suggested that exposure to blue light might stimulate the production of free radicals in skin, which can accelerate the appearance of aging.
The bottom line? The blue light effect on skin needs more research before we can draw any solid conclusions, though early evidence seems to suggest it has the potential to be damaging.
So, what exactly is the blue light doing?
“Dermatologists have good evidence to show that visible light triggers certain skin conditions, such as melasma, where the skin is stimulated to produce more pigment,” says Marchbein. “There’s also evidence that as blue light penetrates the skin, reactive oxygen species are generated, which leads to DNA damage, thereby causing inflammation and the breakdown of healthy collagen and elastin, as well as hyperpigmentation.”