How Your Phone’s Blue Light Could Be Damaging Your Skin, According to Dermatologists

Health experts have known about digital eye strain for a while, and the potential for all that blue light from digital devices to do eye damage. But can screens damage your skin, too?

What is blue light?

Blue light, part of the spectrum of visible light, is a high-energy, short-wavelength light (not to be confused with UVA or UVB rays).

One of the reasons that blue light has become a concern is that High Energy Visible (HEV) light, which typically refers to blue wavelengths on the visible light spectrum, not only comes from sun exposure but also from computer screens, mobile phones, and other digital devices.

By some estimates, we spend 50 percent of our lives staring at screens. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of us are spending more time indoors and in front of screens than normal, “we are substantially increasing our exposure,” says Dr Dianne Quibell, a board-certified  GP and cosmetic doctor. So, it’s particularly important to understand the effects of blue light.

Blue light has been reported to contribute to eye strain as well as cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye diseases. To prevent these conditions, keep at least 12 inches between you and your screen and take frequent breaks. 

But blue light isn’t all bad. Blue light plays a critical role in maintaining good health, as it regulates our body’s circadian rhythm — our natural sleep-wake cycle. Blue light also elevates mood and helps memory and cognitive function.

Is blue light damaging your skin?

Recently, you might have noticed some of your favourite skin-care brands coming out with blue-light-fighting products — so, does that mean it’s damaging your skin? The best evidence we have is that blue light “contributes to brown spots on the skin and hyperpigmentation such as melasma, and possibly to photoaging and the breakdown of collagen, which leads to wrinkles and skin laxity,” says Dr Quibell.

Research on how blue light affects your skin is ongoing, but what dermatologists know so far doesn’t look good. One small, peer-reviewed study of the effects of blue light on the skin, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2010, found that exposing skin to the amount of blue light we get from the sun caused more pigment, redness, and swelling than when the same person’s skin was exposed to comparable levels of UVA rays. Ten years later, this early study is still the one our dermatologist experts referenced.

The blue light effect on skin needs more research before we can draw any solid conclusions, though early evidence seems to suggest it has the potential to be damaging.

So, what exactly is the blue light doing?

Dermatologists have good evidence to show that visible light triggers certain skin conditions, such as melasma, where the skin is stimulated to produce more pigment. There’s also evidence that as blue light penetrates the skin, reactive oxygen species are generated, which leads to DNA damage, thereby causing inflammation and the breakdown of healthy collagen and elastin, as well as hyperpigmentation.”

To recap: We know blue light can cause damage to the skin; whether or not we really have to worry about our digital devices (versus blue light emitted from the sun) is still in question.

There is mounting evidence that supports [blue light’s] contribution to photo-aging, including wrinkles, worsening skin laxity, and hyperpigmentation.

As of now, there’s no commonly understood threshold for when time spent in front of a screen starts to show on your skin. (It’s unknown, for example, whether a forty-hour workweek will lead to melasma faster than 20 hours of video gaming.)

There have been few true investigations into what happens with the accumulation of blue-light exposure from our screens. Anecdotally, some dermatologists say they’ve seen what they believe is skin damage from blue light. 

Dr Quibell recommends sunscreens with iron oxide and antioxidants in the ingredient list, which will help to protect the skin from blue light rays. “The pigments and antioxidants in these products also help protect against blue-light damage from our phones and computers, which is really important as we continue to work from home,” she says.

“There is a place for blue-light protection within skin-care routines, especially if you spend a lot of time in front of digital devices.”

As more research on blue light and skin comes out, dermatologists expect to see the blue-light protecting ingredients emerging more and more in skin care

In addition to catching the blue-light-fighting skin-care wave, it is suggested lowering the brightness level on your screens to 50 percent or go on the darker “Night Shift” setting to help prevent skin damage. (Just don’t dim it so much that you’re straining your eyes). To cut down on the risk of hyperpigmentation where you hold your phone, go hands-free. And whenever you can, consider social distancing from your devices.