Updated: Feb 19
Now more than ever, we are taped behind our screens. On top of that, the current world situation has caused us to live most of our time on and through the internet. From daily Zoom meetings with our colleagues, sweating in front of our TV doing YouTube workouts, to maintaining somewhat of a social life with friends and family by using Whatsapp, dating on Happn or Tinder, and even ordering our groceries from an online supermarket. Screens seem to be our life saviours during these crazy times, but are they indeed our best friends or is there an overlooked risk in the (over)use of our devices? More and more blogs claim that the blue light coming from our screens can be harmful to our skin. Is this truly the case, or are they overreacting? I dove into this topic to get the facts on the table.
What is blue light, and how does it differ from UV light? Blue light has a short wavelength and therefore is containing high energy. For that reason, it is called High Energy Visible Light or HEV. HEV is a light type that is found in regular sunlight, but it is also a part of led light that is used in screens for your phone, computer, tv, etc.
To make the comparison and for you to understand, I first explain about UVA and UVB light; terms you have most probably heard of before. Both are invisible light types: this means we are not able to see these rays with our eyes. They both have an effect on our health and our skin’s appearance: UVB is responsible for sunburn, and UVA can cause damage like skin aging.
Now, I need to add a tiny chunk of geek info (you can also skip this and move to the next bit, but for who is interested: stay tuned!). The spectrum of visible light made by the sun is made up of the colours of the rainbow, with wavelengths of 390 nm to 700 nm (nm = nanometer: a measure of length, specifically 0,000 000 001 meter). To compare: the wavelength of UVB rays goes from 280 nm to 320 nm, and the wavelength of UVA rays ranges from 320 nm to 400 nm. The HEV light (or ‘blue light’) coming from the sun and our screens range from 380 nm to 500 nm.
To summarize this: blue light has a longer wavelength than UVA light but is also overlapping the range of UVA light. And this, in conclusion, means that blue light can also penetrate our skin, just like UVA does. The question that we now need to ask ourselves is: how harmful is it?
How much blue light exposure do we actually get? A recent study has shown that we spend an average of 12 hours  a day behind our screens: this is a very high number. It comes down to the fact that we spend half of our day looking at our screens and it is the reason why we need to know the truth about what effect that blue light from those screens has on us.
Some studies measured how much light we get from different devices. Michelle from Lab Muffin, a science educator with a PhD in chemistry, breaks down these studies. I don’t want to get any nerdier with you guys, but if you want to get deeper into the science, I recommend reading her blog. She compares several studies with daily UV exposure and is taking the worst-case scenario as an example. Her conclusion is as follows: when exposed to the bright white screen of an iMac, that blue light is 100 times less damaging than that of the midday sun. For a 4-inch smartphone with a bright white screen, its effect is over 2000 times less dangerous.
What about the free radicals I hear about? How harmful are they? Although the conclusions above give you a bit of context about kinds and amounts of exposure we are talking about, this comparison doesn’t take into account that blue light also causes increased free radicals, which can cause skin aging and pigmentation. The studies that are connecting blue light with free radicals were using a much higher amount of blue light exposure for their research: such high amounts even, that we can’t compare that amount of exposure to that which we come across in our daily life. A positive thing from these studies is that there has been no relation found to blue light exposure and skin cancer, which is a big relief and is essential for all of us to know.
Are there any benefits? Luckily, blue light isn’t only bad news. It has been successfully used for years to treat acne. Besides, several studies have shown that it can improve our mood and also helps increase vitamin D production and by doing so, it strengthens our immune system: something we can all benefit from during the wintertime.
How can we protect our skin? The chances that blue light will visibly affect our skin are minimal, but if you are anything like me, you will do all you can to minimize those chances. So, what do I recommend? First of all, always wear sunscreen even when you are indoors. Although it can’t block everything, sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium oxide offer at least a little bit of protection against blue light. There aren’t any other filters available that can protect your skin from blue light than a sunscreen.
What more you can do, is using antioxidants in your skincare, such as La Vitamine C Powder or products with vitamin E, for example. Also, the ingestion of lots of fruits and vegetables that are packed with antioxidants can help: think of broccoli and blueberries. Changing your devices’ settings can also minimize blue light radiation: put your screen on night mode, turn the brightness of your screen down, or use a blue light filter to place on top of your screen. Overall, my advice would be to not freak out too much about blue light. It isn’t as evil as most suggest. And who knows, it might even help to prevent you from getting sick this winter 😉.
THE NIELSEN TOTAL AUDIENCE REPORT: AUGUST 2020 https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/report/2020/the-nielsen-total-audience-report-august-2020/
WILL BLUE LIGHT FROM COMPUTERS AND PHONES DAMAGE YOUR SKIN https://labmuffin.com/blue-light-computers-phones-damage-skin/
Vandersee S et al., Blue-violet light irradiation dose dependently decreases carotenoids in human skin, which indicates the generation of free radicals, Oxid Med Cell Longev 2015, 579675. DOI: 10.1155/2015/579675