While many individuals think that just being in the sun too long can cause skin damage, the truth is that although sunlight is mostly blue light, you don’t even need to be out in the sun to see the effects on your skin.
Blue light from your computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone can also contribute to premature aging, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation if you aren’t careful about how much time you spend looking at electronic screens every day.
Here are some important things you should know about blue light and its effects on your skin!
How does blue light affect your skin?
If you work in front of a computer all day, your skin is exposed to a high level of blue light, which could lead to sun damage or hyperpigmentation. The degree to which UV rays damage your skin (and accelerate aging) depends on how long you’re exposed to them, but even short exposures can be damaging.
When you head outside for a jog or take a weekend trip to Mexico (or even walking outside), you protect yourself from blue light by wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. While it might seem that blue light from screens doesn’t pose as much of a threat as sunlight, remember that, unlike ultraviolet rays, there’s no barrier between your skin and these invisible rays..
For example, consider an LED monitor: It emits very little UVA or UVB radiation, which is good news if you’re worried about sunburns, but it emits high blue light. Blue light has been shown to disrupt circadian rhythms in humans and animals; it also affects melatonin production in humans (linked to our internal body clock). This mostly affects our sleep cycles, however there is evidence that exposing our skin to lots of screen time can contribute to aging and hyperpigmentation.
Although there are currently no definitive studies proving that exposure to blue light leads directly to cancer, many scientists believe that it could have carcinogenic effects over time.
How much blue light exposure do you get?
If you spend any time using electronic devices, you’re exposed to blue light. Computer monitors, cell phones, tablets, televisions—all emit varying levels of blue light.
This type of light exposure has been associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. It also has been linked to other health issues such as impaired sleep quality, cancer development, and obesity.
Because blue light is so prevalent in our lives today, it’s essential to learn how we can limit our exposure—and by doing so, prevent some harmful health effects that result from it. As part of their research, experts found that children get almost twice as much blue light exposure during their day than adults do.
They say an average 10-year-old receives about 7.5 hours of blue light per day; for 20-year-olds, that number drops to about 5 hours per day. Adults typically spend about 4 hours exposed to blue light daily.
How does this affect aging?
It is recommended that everyone protect their skin from the UV rays when outside through the use of sunscreens and sun protective clothing such as hats or clothing specifically manufactured for this purpose, such as rash guards.
These will help protect your skin from UV rays and ultimately avoid sun damage. Wearing sunscreen under your makeup is also important, especially if you plan to be outdoors for extended periods.
According to Women’s Health magazine, blue light from devices such as phones and monitors can increase aging and hyperpigmentation over time, meaning it’s particularly important for people who are using screens often to wear sunscreen.
In addition, the magazine says that moisturizers with antioxidants can help combat hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure and blue light from digital devices.
The jury is still out on whether blue light blocking screen protectors will protect your skin. For this reason, we recommend that you wear a mineral-based sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with at least an SPF of 30 and re-apply every two hours while outside or in front of your screen.
How can you reduce your exposure to UV and blue light?
Wear a sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when outside. Don’t spend a lot of time in direct sunlight, especially during peak hours (between 10 am to 4 pm).
If you do have to be outside during those hours, use sunscreen with SPF30+ and wear UV protection sunglasses. Please refrain from using tanning beds as they emit UV rays and can cause sun damage and increase your risk of developing skin cancer..
Are there any other effects of blue light?
According to Edward Grossman, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, blue light can damage your skin. Light of any kind can cause sunburn and also age your skin prematurely.
Why? Sunlight causes free radicals—invisible particles that damage cell membranes and lead to wrinkles, brown spots, and even cancer—to form in your skin cells.
Grossman explains that blue light is far more dangerous for your skin than other wavelengths because it has a shorter wavelength than UV rays [and thus penetrates more deeply].
Since sunlight is blue light, it also tends to be brightest during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; UV rays are more brilliant earlier in the day and dimmer later on. Blue light from screens can occur during the day or night and accelerates aging by damaging collagen fibers in your skin, causing wrinkles and fine lines.
It may also contribute to dark circles under your eyes or hyperpigmentation (also known as sunspots), which appear as dark patches on your face caused by sun exposure. In addition, excessive screen time may worsen acne breakouts by increasing oil production around hair follicles (Grossman).
What if I can’t avoid blue light?
If you can’t avoid blue light (from your computer, phone, or other digital devices), don’t fret.
Even with a lot of exposure to blue light, you can do things to minimize damage. According to dermatologist Dr. Mark A Murad, Ph.D., one of those things is wearing sunblock—specifically SPF 15 or higher with both UVA/UVB protection—every day regardless of how much time you spend outside.
It will help protect against some of that environmental aging and prevent hyperpigmentation issues, which are all too familiar for people who spend a lot of time using their devices with minimal sun protection.
Our skin’s damage from sun exposure doesn’t happen overnight—it happens slowly over time and can come from several sources.
The buildup of oxidative stress caused by blue light can cause sun damage just as well as direct sunlight, so protecting your skin from electronics with sunscreen is an excellent way to keep it safe from environmental damage.
In addition, blue light reduces our antioxidant capacity and imbalances reactive oxygen species (ROS) and our body’s natural antioxidants.
We can help counteract this by eating more antioxidant-rich foods, taking supplements like Polypodium leucotomos,, or getting in more omega-3 fatty acids through food sources like fish or flax seeds.