The pandemic moved us indoors, spending more time on Zoom meetings, online activities, our smartphones, laptops, tablets and in front of the television, causing growing concern about how blue light from these devices might be negatively affecting our health. I bought into the warnings, purchasing prescription glasses with blue-light protective coating. That particular pair was a waste of money, since I rarely wear them when I’m on the computer. But my qi gong teacher swears by them. He started wearing an inexpensive pair of blue-light glasses because he was spending more time in front of the screen teaching online classes.
Merchandisers often use the human tendency to panic to market unproven products. So, what’s the real deal here? Are all the blue-light-protection products effective or even necessary?
What Is Blue Light?
Blue light is a color in the visible light spectrum that can be seen by the human eye. Also known as high energy visible (HEV) light, it has the shortest wavelength of visible light, producing the highest amount of energy. Most blue light exposure comes from the sun, but it is also emitted from light bulbs, especially fluorescent and LED, and our favorite electronic devices. Unlike with UVA and UVB sun exposure, which has been thoroughly studied and found to cause skin cancer and photoaging and contribute to eye diseases, there hasn’t been definitive research on HEV.
Will Blue Light Damage My Eyes?
Studies on whether blue light from digital devices causes damage to the eyes is limited, though it is known that spending too many hours in front of a computer or smartphone screen can cause eye discomfort. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the discomfort is probably due to digital eye strain, which can lead to dry eyes and other eye problems.
AAO states that blue light does have some benefits for mental performance. Blue wavelengths are beneficial during daylight hours because they can help boost attention, alertness and moods and regulate circadian rhythms.
However, exposure to blue light at night can negatively affect the body’s circadian rhythm. It can stop the brain from producing melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep, as well as causing a variety of health consequences.
One study published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences found that women with hereditary breast cancer predispositions (BRCA1/2 gene mutations) should avoid using smartphones, tablets and laptops at night, or wear sunglasses with amber lenses, or use screen applications to decrease exposure to blue light before sleep to decrease the risk of circadian rhythm disruption and breast cancer.
Is Blue Light Bad for My Skin?
Blue light actually has healing properties. Through controlled and targeted therapy, blue light has been used to treat psoriasis and mild to moderate acne, as well as to kill cancer cells in certain types of cancer.
But while low exposure to high-energy blue light has been used to prevent skin diseases, research shows that longer exposure can increase skin barrier damage and photoaging. A study found that exposing skin cells to light emitted from electronic devices for as little as 60 minutes may cause reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, which is a type of unstable molecule that contains oxygen and reacts with other molecules in a cell. A buildup of ROS may damage DNA and even cause cell death, which speeds up the aging process. This chemical process can break down collagen and elastin, damaging skin elasticity and worsening hyperpigmentation. Another study linked blue light to more swelling, redness and pigment changes in people with darker skin.
But according to WebMD, “certain waves of blue light in varying degrees of strength may be shown to cause changes in your skin — although likely the amount from these devices is nothing to worry about.”
A more recent study by the Beiersdorf Research Center in Hamburg, Germany, found that the amount of artificial blue light from the conventional use of laptops, tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices “is nowhere near enough to trigger harmful skin effects,” according to Dr. Ludger Kolbe, chief scientist of photobiology. Excessive exposure to the sun’s natural, direct blue light poses a much higher risk. “The much-feared negative impact of increased screen use due to the coronavirus — for example, resulting from more online meetings or increased use of smartphones — is therefore scientifically untenable. The effect on the skin is negligible, which means concerns about negative impacts on the skin are unfounded.”
More research is needed on the effects of blue light. If you are concerned about blue light exposure you can do the following:
- Cut down on screen time.
- Use screen protectors on your devices to block or dim the light.
- Go to the display settings on electronic devices, laptops and desktops to turn on night mode to reduce light intensity.
- Use headphones when on your smartphone so that you are not placing it against your face, or use the speakerphone.
- Don’t sit too close to laptops and computers.
- Consider wearing blue-light-blocking glasses. According to AAO, there is a lack of evidence that blue-light glasses are effective in protecting the eyes from damage, so they don’t recommend special blue-light-blocking eyewear for computer use. But I have found that wearing blue-light eyeglasses in the evening seems to help me get to sleep easier.
- Check the ingredient labels on beauty products. Although there is also a lack of research on the effectiveness of skin care products purporting to protect against blue light exposure, certain antioxidants counter negative effects of free radical damage. Ingredients such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E in serums and moisturizers could protect against oxidative stress. You can also use a tinted mineral sunscreen with iron-oxide pigments. Iron oxide blocks blue light penetration into the skin, especially when combined with zinc oxide.