If you’re serious about preventing premature ageing, it seems protection from UVA and UVB rays is no longer enough, as evolving research confirms that blue light – emitted from the sun and our digital devices – is also bad for our skin.
“We are now seeing increasing data on the potential long-term harms of visible light, and in particular blue light, on our skin,” dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams tells Bazaar. It comes as we’re increasingly attached to our digital devices, swiftly being labelled the silent agers of our generation.
With millennials checking their phones an average of 150 times a day, and a 2016 report finding US adults clock up more than 10 hours of screen time daily, we’re getting significantly more blue light exposure than we used to from the sun alone.
Dr Murad, the influential dermatologist behind his eponymous skincare brand, explains that, “spending four eight-hour workdays in front of a computer exposes you to the same amount of energy as 20 minutes in the mid-day sun. To put this in perspective, "seven minutes of sun exposure at 1pm is powerful enough to induce immediate tanning”.
The problems with blue light
Blue light (also referred to as High Energy Visible or HEV light) poses potential skin harm via free radical generation, Dr Williams explains, “as blue light has been shown in studies to induce oxidative stress in live skin”. This can contribute to skin ageing, like exposure to UVA (long known to age our skin prematurely), however – as Dr Williams points out – “blue light has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin compared with both UVA and UVB light”. In fact, she notes, “blue light can penetrate all the way to our dermis, where our collagen and elastin live”. Read: wrinkling and sagging as a result.
“Blue light has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin compared with both UVA and UVB light”
Another way blue light might be ageing us is by causing pigmentation. “Studies indicate that visible light may also be more active in inducing pigmentation compared to UV light,” the dermatologist explains.
Blue light also compromises our beauty sleep by way of disrupting our natural circadian rhythm. “If exposed to significant amounts of blue light at night for example, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Dr Williams (hands up who watched Netflix and scrolled trough their phone in bed last night). It’s because, she explains, blue light “affects the level of melatonin, our sleep hormone”.
Not only this, but new research from Estée Lauder demonstrates that blue light exposure at night impacts the natural circadian rhythm of skin cells themselves. Dr Nadine Pernodet, Estée Lauder Companies’ scientific spokesperson, explains the findings of their testing: “Results indicate that exposure to blue light at night can throw skin’s natural circadian rhythm ‘out-of-sync’, causing skin cells to continue to ‘think’ it is daytime, impacting their natural nighttime repair process, which can lead to visible signs of ageing, and even dark under-eye circles.”
But beyond an aesthetic level, blue light may also be harming our eyesight. “When it comes to the eyes, there is significant research indicating how damaging unprotected exposure to blue light from our digital devices can be,” confirms former journalist Paula Begoun, the brains behind skincare brand Paula's Choice. Our eyes are glued to our screens (right now, in fact), and the research shows it can result in degeneration of our sight.
The new blue light debate
But is all blue light bad?
“Existing research demonstrates that exposure to blue light during the day has some health benefits, like boosting alertness and elevating mood,” notes Dr Pernodet. However, from sunlight (the main source of blue light) comes environmental damage which leads to premature ageing – as we know.
Acne sufferers may even use blue light as a beauty treatment, which is recommended by many skincare pros. As Begoun explains, “there is research showing that, in small bursts, blue light is an effective therapy for certain skin disorders such as breakouts”. The but? “But, even then, there’s very little research comparing the effects of these devices with the effects of the gold standard ingredients for acne: salicylic acid (BHA), benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid” (ask your dermatologist or facialist to guide you on such options).
“And it’s hard to ignore the potential for blue light damage,” Begoun concludes.
How to protect your skin from blue light damage
Clearly one needs to take an indoor and outdoor approach given that both sunlight and our digital devices emit blue light.
Before you tweak your skincare regime, address your tech and cover your phones and computers with a blue light shield. “It’s a cheap fix and eliminates the need to worry about skincare or sunglasses when using your phone or tablet,” advises Begoun. “Some smartphones have a setting that disables blue light in favour of yellow light (often called 'night mode' or 'nightshift'), which makes it easier on your eyes and on your skin. If your phone has this feature, use it all the time as a great anti-ageing and eye-saving method.” Easy.
"Topical antioxidants are an absolute must"
When it comes to protection from products, take cover with a ‘smart shield’ sunscreen packing antioxidants. The new bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Defense is a broad spectrum, non-chemical mineral SPF 30, loaded with antioxidant-rich cocoa extract said to help protect against the damaging effects of blue light from devices.
Topical antioxidants are “an absolute must” in everyone’s skincare regime, Dr Williams attests. “The skin naturally contains antioxidants such as vitamin E; however, these are used up when the skin is exposed to excess free radicals [think UV light, visible blue light and other environmental factors such as pollution]. Applying topical antioxidants in the form of skincare, as well as eating a diet rich in antioxidants [from fresh fruit and vegetables] can boost our skin’s defence against oxidative environmental damage.”
While we’d recommend leaving your cleansing until after a catch-up TV binge – should you also be partial to a bit of screen time in bed – you don’t actually need to wear your broad-spectrum shields at all hours. “Topically applied antioxidants will essentially create an antioxidant ‘depot’ in our skin, so the antioxidants will still be doing good in our skin after we have washed our face in the evening,” Dr Williams explains.
As for skincare you should be sleeping with, research feeding into Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair formulations is constant. For example, the new eye cream formula, Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex (launching at Selfridges on 24 July), “works to repair and prevent the visible impact of blue light at night and other skin damaging assaults,” explains Dr Pernodet. With hyaluronic acid, ChronoluxCB™ and powerful antioxidants, it protects the thin skin around the eyes against free radical damage, while promoting the skin’s natural renewal processes.