A plethora of skin care products aimed at counteracting the potentially harmful effects of blue light (AKA high-energy visible or HEV light) have been introduced to the health and wellness market — if you haven’t already noticed them, you soon will. The next generation of skincare focuses on our evolving screen-time habits, with a 2016 report finding that US adults spend an average of 10 hours a day in front of a screen. Emerging research is finding that the effects of this screen-time extend beyond sleep-pattern disruption and potential eyesight damage. The research is showing that blue light is also bad for our skin.
So what is HEV or blue light? “High-energy visible light refers to the higher-frequency, shorter wavelengths of light in the violet-blue band in the visible spectrum,” says Andrew Birnie, a dermatologist and skin-cancer specialist at the William Harvey and Kent and Canterbury Hospitals. “HEV is present in daylight, but it’s also emitted by fluorescent lighting and LEDs, including TV screens, smartphones, tablets and computers.”
The problem with increased exposure to blue light is that is poses potential skin harm via free radical generation. Or more simply put, blue light promotes stressors in skin that cause photo-aging (aging from exposure to light). In a 2017 study published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine, researchers found that exposure to the blue light contained in sunlight prompted oxidation and damaged proteins in human skin. “These results suggest that blue light contributes to skin aging similar to UVA,” the authors wrote in their paper.
Perhaps more worrisome is that blue light has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin compared with both UVA and UVB light, as dermatologist Stefanie Williams told Harper’s Bazaar in July: “blue light can penetrate all the way to our dermis, where our collagen and elastin live.”
Perhaps the silver lining here is that sunlight remains the main source of blue light exposure; our digital devices account for only a fraction of that amount of radiation. However, the “close-up” exposure to our devices at increasing levels and the accompanying potential health concerns should not be ignored and will rightfully continue to gain exposure. In addition to the skincare products mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have recently seen other products come on the market such as blue-light blocking eyeglasses and blue-light blocking screen shields.
While we won’t know for certain the long-term effects of our digital habits, it definitely can’t hurt to take some preventative measures in our anti-aging skincare routines now! Antioxidants anyone?