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As a whole, we spend a lot of time in front of screens. In fact, 43 percent of adults have jobs that require the usage of a tablet or computer, and kids in the US between the ages of 8 and 12 spend four to six hours a day watching or using screens while US teens spend up to 9 hours using screens. More screen time means more exposure to blue light.
You likely know that blue light from your laptop or phone screens is harmful to your eyes. And you probably know blue light can cause eye strain, headaches and can even make it harder for you to fall asleep. You might have even invested in blue-light blocking glasses to mitigate some of these effects. But have you considered what impact that blue light is having on your skin too?
As screen time continues to rise, experts are now becoming concerned about the effects of blue light on skin, and whether our screens can damage our entire faces, not just our eyes. This isn't something older generations had to worry about, but Generations X, Y (millennials) and Z have all spent years in front of screens -- Gen X as their careers became more digitally driven, millennials as computers became more prevalent in schools and universities and Gen Z as tablets and phones became more common forms of childhood entertainment.
Now, a few decades into the technological revolution, science shows us that the light from our favorite devices might be harsher than we ever imagined. We spoke to dermatologists and experts to see what impact blue light can have on your whole face -- not just your eyes -- and tips on how to minimize damage.
Blue light is the highest-energy light in the visible spectrum, says Dr. Michele Farber of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. It's generally defined as visible light from 380 to 500 nanometers. Other types of visible light fall below that on the electromagnetic spectrum, and UV light, which is invisible radiation, falls above blue light with wavelengths of 100 to 380 nanometers.
Blue light's high energy "gives blue light the ability to penetrate more deeply into the dermis than wavelengths with lower energy," Dr. Farber tells CNET. Blue light, also called HEV light for "high-energy visible" light, is mostly known for its emittance from screens, such as on laptops, phones and TVs.
Is blue light bad for skin?
The research on blue light and skin damage is a relatively new area of study.
There are also studies suggesting that blue light can cause sustained pigment changes, Dr. Farber points out.
"It is important to understand that studies are emerging, and we are still learning the extent of how blue light affects skin," Dr. Farber says, but she emphasizes that there's no reason to disregard the potential for damage.
"What we do know is there is evidence of obvious detrimental changes with exposure to blue light, and it is worth protecting our skin from blue light," Dr. Farber says.
Dr. Marie Hayag, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City, tells CNET that blue light can potentially damage skin in a number of ways:
Weakens the outermost layer of your skin and delays its recovery from daily skin stressors
Dr. Farber and Dr. Hayag both say that the generation of reactive oxygen species is particularly concerning, because they're largely responsible for aging skin: Reactive oxygen species damage DNA and cause breakdown of collagen and elastin, resulting in skin laxity, wrinkles and accelerated aging.
One other element to consider is that blue light can interfere with your circadian rhythm and disturb sleep. It's well-known that sleep deprivation can cause changes to the skin, including dullness, swollenness, redness and the ever-dreaded dark undereye circles.
Interestingly, low-level blue light therapy has been used to treat acne and accelerate wound healing. But, as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
How to protect your skin from blue light
The obvious answer is to spend less time in front of screens. That's not an option for many people, though, particularly those who have computer-based jobs.
Keep night mode enabled on all of your devices at all times to reduce blue light emittance in favor of gentler yellow or orange light. You could also purchase a blue light shield for your computer, like this one from Ocushield.
Wear SPF daily. Sunscreen is your best protector against photo-aging and skin damage, because the sun is the most significant source of light and radiation. Chemical sunscreen ingredients aren't known to block HEV light, but the physical blockers -- titanium dioxide and zinc oxide -- might. Tinted sunscreens may offer an extra element of protection because they often contain iron oxides, which increase the spectrum of light blocked.
Anti-blue-light skin care
Some new skin care products claim to protect skin against blue light damage, such as Foster's Lab, a new skin care startup that makes an "Anti-Tech Serum" full of ingredients proposed to protect and eventually undo any damage caused by blue light.
Dr. Hayag says that any products with antioxidants can help protect your skin from blue light damage. "It is best to use antioxidant products twice a day instead of just the morning," she specifies, "because the antioxidant supply gets depleted during the day and since we are on our devices longer, we should replenish them during our nighttime routine."
Products with iron oxides can help, too, Dr. Hayag says, because they block both UVA rays and blue HEV rays.
Other ingredients to look for include DNA repair enzymes, "supplement the body's natural DNA repair mechanisms, and retinoids, which "can boost collagen in the skin and increase cell turnover which helps repair sun damaged skin cells," Dr. Hayag says. Look for ingredients that end in "ase" to signify enzymes. For example, photolyase and endonuclease are two DNA repair enzymes found in skincare products.
Dr. Hayag and Dr. Farber both say that a mineral-based, broad-spectrum sunscreen is the best thing you can slather on every day: Physical blockers with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide reflect light rays to offer broad-spectrum UV protection, and may also reflect HEV light.
Certain skincare products may help protect your skin against blue light damage, but the bottom line is that everyone could do with a little less screen time: Fewer hours spent scrolling can be good for your eyes, your mind, your posture and perhaps your skin, too.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.