Just like there’s always a new star ingredient that is the “next big thing” in skin care, there’s also always a new big, bad threat that people claim will totally ruin your skin. I swear it feels almost comic book-esque at times with this never-ending cycle of skin care heroes and villains. Sometimes the hype is warranted, but most of the time it’s all just smoke and mirrors for companies to find a new way to convince you that you need to buy whatever they’re selling. And lately, all the buzz around blue light—at this point in time anyway—feels like a classic “mountain out of a molehill” situation in my eyes.
The Blue Light Issue
The discussion about blue light in the cosmetic world is focused specifically on the blue light that is coming from all the screens we find ourselves staring at these days for both work and for recreation. The concern is that blue wavelengths of light from our phones, tablets, TV screens, and computer monitors are causing damage to both our eyes and our skin, contributing to some serious things like accelerated vision deterioration, premature skin aging, and even skin cancer.
The concern is that blue wavelengths of light from our phones, tablets, TV screens, and computer monitors are causing damage to our eyes and skin.
There are a lot of claims about how blue light is aging us in the same manner direct, unprotected exposure to the sun would, but at an accelerated rate due to the fact that the majority of us are staring at our devices for much longer than we’re out in the sun without sunscreen (which should be a very rare occasion). Sunlight itself contains blue light and so does the light coming from our devices, so that’s where the parallels are drawn.
One thing that I always try to keep in mind is that skin care, for the most part, really is a matter of personal enjoyment and care of oneself. However, I am a strong advocate for taking sun exposure seriously because not properly using sun protection can lead to skin cancer. That’s why the things being said about the potential dangers of blue light exposure strike a serious chord with me.
With such serious claims like this, you would think that there would be some hefty research to back up this chatter. But when you look into the research, things definitely aren’t as clear as some would have you believe.
The (Lack of) Research
One of the studies I’ve seen cited a few times is this one, which found that blue light can both induce signs of aging as well as contribute to the formation of cancer cells in the skin. However, the blue light that’s being discussed in this study is blue light directly from the sun, not from electronic devices. Some places will make vague references to the fact that because these screens are closer to our face than the sun, potential for damage is greater, but in this interview, biochemistry and cell biology professor Alexander Wolf of Nippon Medical School in Japan states that the light from our phones is of a much lower intensity than direct sunlight, and therefore the results of studies like the aforementioned one cannot be applied to our electronic devices. He adds that “there’s very little reason” to be obsessing over the light from electronics doing damage to our skin.
Andrew Birnie, a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, also stated in the interview that more research needs to be done to really draw a conclusion about whether blue light from devices damages our skin. He says that we should be way more concerned about the direct sunlight coming in from the window next to our desk than the computer monitor on the desk.
Even skin care brand Paula’s Choice states that while the blue light from our phones gives more concentrated exposure to our skin compared to the rays of the sun (a theory that Dr. Wolf refuted earlier), there is not enough conclusive research on the topic. They state that blue light “hurts” the skin, but do not clarify whether they’re referring to the blue light from UV rays or from electronic screens.
So What’s the Conclusion?
The more research I did, the more I saw dermatology experts basically stating that while blue light from our screens could be an issue, we don’t know for sure. And then they almost always redirected the conversation to the potential harm that sun exposure can cause without proper sun protection.
Sure, this could change drastically down the line if more long-term studies are done, but at this point, the sky is not falling like some companies want you to think. My personal conclusion is that we should all be wearing sunscreen when we go outdoors, regardless of the season or the weather, and that has not and will not change any time soon.