For many of us, ramped up screen time from sheltering in place has become either a necessity or a necessary evil — and our skin may be feeling the negative effects of it. Blue light from our cell phones and laptops may be disrupting some of the work you’ve put into caring for your skin, and stealing the shine from those skin-care products you finally got around to trying. There’s already plenty for us to be on edge about right now, and trust us, we’re not trying to add to that list.
So before dropping off the grid into permanent isolation, know this: Having an awareness about blue light is important — but with the right products, the negative effects of it are also preventable. “I do think 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,” Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, previously told Allure.
Protecting skin from damaging light — UV rays from the sun being number one — should always be a top priority. However, our new normal of endless Zoom calls and show streaming now also requires consideration of blue light, also known as High Energy Visible Light (HEV), says Julie Karen, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. It’s present in visible sunlight and in illumination from our screens.
“It’s just a little bit shorter in wavelength than ultraviolet light (UV), which we know causes skin cancer and skin aging,” says Kenneth Howe, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “We’re all just used to blue light because we see it all the time. Its sheer familiarity makes it seem harmless.”
Howe says that unlike UV light, blue light is not known to cause skin cancer, but there is science to indicate that it potentially contributes to skin aging. “It does this by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the skin,” says Howe. “These ROS, or free radicals, in turn, cause oxidative damage within the skin.” The antidote is antioxidants, which protect the skin by “quenching” or neutralizing these ROS before they can do their damage. In contrast, and for some context, UV light from the sun harms skin both through the generation of free radicals and by directly damaging the skin’s DNA, Howe further explains.
But blue light isn’t all bad. Ellen Marmur, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says that some levels of blue light can, in many ways, actually help us. “Blue light is good for your brain by restoring circadian rhythm, improving mood, energy and alertness, and enriching cognitive function,” she says. Marmur also notes that it helps the skin’s microbiome and has been used to combat skin concerns like acne by reducing inflammation.
And even more good news is that protecting skin against blue light actually doesn’t require that major of a skin-care shakeup. If you’re already in the habit of wearing sunscreen, then you’re on the right track. Many of the same serums and SPF products that we’ve come to know and love have actually been working double-duty to protect against blue light as well as UV rays. Ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do some of (but not all) the necessary blocking, while antioxidants like vitamin C and variations of green tea keep free radicals from wreaking havoc.
Howe also suggests switching your smartphone to night mode. He says that studies have confirmed that this change reduces blue light exposure significantly. And if you put it on timed mode (do this through settings to set the time that the colors in your display will adjust), it can minimize blue light exposure at night without interfering as much with your sleep rhythms. When you’re awake, before getting in a work-from-home groove, it’s important to not skimp on skin care.
Start your day with one of these 15 dermatologist-recommended products that will help shield skin from potentially aging blue light. Many of these also block out UVA and UVB rays, too, because yes, you still need to wear sunscreen, even if you have don’t have any plans of stepping foot outside.
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