While we’re mindful of how much screen time our kids have each day, are we also taking care of ourselves? Studies show that the blue light from our many screens can affect our eyes, brains, and yes, our skin. The good news is that it’s easy to keep your blue light exposure safe. While blue light’s full effects are still being studied, here’s what we know.
What is Blue Light, and Where Does it Come From?
Blue light isn’t something new, it’s just one part of the light spectrum. You might know the colors of a rainbow as ROY G BIV. That “B” stands for blue light. Sources of natural blue light are ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, and man-made blue light comes from fluorescent and LED bulbs we have in our home by way of lamps, televisions, and yes, computer, tablet, and smartphone screens.
What makes blue light special, is it’s one of the three colors in the light spectrum that can affect our eyes. “Our eyes are sensitive to three colors: red, green, and blue,” said Austin-based board-certified ophthalmologist and oculoplastic and reconstructive surgeon, Tanya Khan. It’s the shortest wavelength in those colors, which means it’s also the most powerful.
But blue light isn’t all bad! It’s actually very key for our bodies. “Blue light plays a critical role in maintaining good health, as it regulates our body’s circadian rhythm — our natural sleep-wake cycle,” notes Meenakashi Gupta, a New York City-based ophthalmologist. “Blue light also elevates mood and helps memory and cognitive function.”
Blue light has also been used to treat conditions such as psoriasis and acne on skin, with good results. It can be utilized to treat precancerous skin conditions such as actinic keratosis and as a way to activate a special type of cancer cell-killing drugs called photosensitizing agents as an alternative to radiation as a part of “photodynamic therapy.”
What Makes Blue Light Bad for Your Skin and Eyes?
But not all blue light comes at us in the same way or at the same strength. “You’ll get less blue light from your TV than from your computer because it’s farther away,” said Dr. Henry. “And more light from your phone than your computer because your phone is so close to your face.”
Blue light can pass through our eyes and into our retinas, and too much can accumulate over time to cause permanent vision damage. On a daily level, an excess of blue light can keep us from that sweet, restorative beauty rest. “Blue light damages the retina and reduces your excretion of melatonin, so it interrupts your sleep cycle,” said Dermatologist Michelle Henry in a New York Times interview. Our eyes can also suffer from eye strain from an excess of blue light, leading to headaches, or even cataracts, glaucoma, and other diseases of the eye. Damage to our retina can even lead to age-related macular degeneration!
And while the sun is the big light emitter in our lives we need to worry about, blue light is still damaging to our skin, just in different ways. “Blue light causes a slightly different type of damage. It causes generation of reactive oxygen species which damages collagen, causes wrinkling, pigment changes and laxity,” said Dermatologist Michele Farber.
Fact: Too much blue light isn’t good for your skin. In excess, it can cause:
- Premature aging from cell shrinkage and cell death (in as little as 60 minutes of exposure)
- Skin pigmentation
- Swelling and redness
- Collagen breakdown
- Increase in free radicals
Ready to avoid these? So are we!
Sunscreen is a Must, Even Indoors
You’ve probably been reminded that even on cloudy days you should wear sunscreen. (We noted that you should keep your skin cleansed and protected even in winter.) But are you also wearing sunscreen when hanging out indoors? Blue light from our many screens and LED bulbs can affect our skin whether we’re inside or out, so don’t skip this step in your skin care routine.
Every day, apply a “broad spectrum” sunscreen with at least a SPF (that’s sun-protection factor) of 15 or higher. Make sure to check the expiration dates on sunscreen in your medicine cabinet (toss when expired or after three years), and don’t store it somewhere like the car where it can get too hot (or cold) throughout the year, and spoil.
Not All Protection Comes in a Bottle
In addition to sunscreen, there are still more ways you can help protect yourself from too much blue light. Some methods involve wearing blue light-blocking glasses. These can include a special coating on your prescription lenses, or a non-prescription pair of specs that keep UV-damage from your delicate retinas.
Other protection tricks include:
- Limit screen time and take breaks to rest your eyes. To reduce eye strain, try to take a break every 20 minutes or so.
- Don’t suffer eye strain. If your eyes feel dry, treat them with artificial tears.
- Avoid that screen before bed. We all love winding down the day with some scrolling, but too much screen can wake up your brain, right when it should be winding down. Blue light can inhibit your body’s production of melatonin, leading to sleeplessness — and you need your sleep! Certain apps or settings on newer tablets and phones can also help automatically tune down the blue when it gets later in the day.
- Add a protective layer to your screens. These temporary physical screen protectors block the harmful part of light from being emitted. You can also use third-party apps to dim blue light. Permanent anti-reflective coatings on screens (or glasses) can also help reduce blue light from harming your eyes.
Sunscreen is Important to Hope Smith, Too!
In her “AM Beauty Routine” video on YouTube, Hope Smith points out that she finishes off her morning routine by adding a product with SPF in it, namely Supergoop Glowscreen sunscreen. Hope likes the dewy glow the product gives her, and with its protective factor, it will help her inside or outside. “I’ll normally end with this Glowscreen from Supergoop, SPF 40. It gives you a really good glow, especially when you’re not going to wear makeup. Like me today!” Supergoop has other options that you can try out, depending on your style preferences, including a matte version and a no-show “unseen” sunscreen product. But you also don’t have to go just one way with your sunscreen. Pick a sunscreen that feels and looks good, and most importantly one that makes you want to keep up with a smart skin routine, and you’ll be ahead of the game.