Is the Blue Light From Your Computer Damaging Your Skin?

Ayla Beauty’s brick-and-mortar shop

Have you noticed lately that there are a handful of beauty companies touting new products claiming to protect your skin from the blue light that is emitted from your laptop, iPad, LED lightbulbs, TV and smartphone? At first, I was confused — isn’t blue light what is used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and, in some cases, acne? And please say it isn’t true, but do we need to add another product to our beauty regime? 

Most of us know that experts recommend not to look at our phones at least an hour before bedtime so the light doesn’t affect sleep, but now it looks like we need to protect our skin from our computers (and lightbulbs!) because their blue light can promote hyperpigmentation, collagen breakdown and wrinkles. There haven’t been enough formal scientific studies to definitively come up with guidelines, but the science is mounting. I recently sat down with Dara Kennedy, clean beauty expert and owner of San Francisco–based cosmetics and skincare retailer Ayla, to suss fact from fiction. 

Does the blue light from digital screens cause the same damage as blue light from the sun?
The blue light from our devices causes oxidative stress in the skin, and it is clearly linked to two of the most difficult-to-treat skin care issues: hyper-pigmentation and collagen damage. But perspective is important. The amount of blue light your skin gets from daily device use is probably less than what it would get from the sun if you were spending more time outside. Still, blue light exposure is a good thing to pay attention to and learn more about, since most of us don’t protect our skin indoors in the same way that we do outdoors.

Is the blue light we are talking about the same kind that is used to treat acne and seasonal affective disorder? If so, is it a matter of the quality of the light or perhaps exposure time that makes the difference?
Yes, but in cases where blue light is used to treat acne or skin lesions, these are small doses given in measured amounts. And when treating SAD, those lights are used for a limited amount of time in the morning. With the blue light exposure from our phones or computers, you’re looking at longer, chronic exposure and its potential cumulative effects. We don’t really know exactly what the effects are yet. 

What about people who have sun-sensitive disorders like rosacea or lupus or are taking drugs that make them more prone to sunlight sensitivity — should they be taking extra precautions?
In general, it makes sense for those with sun-sensitive disorders and those taking skin-sensitizing drugs to wear mineral sunscreen with iron oxides more frequently, even indoors, if it’s a concern for them.

Does blue light affect different skin tones differently?
Yes, blue light seems to cause more hyperpigmentation in medium to dark skin tones. Studies have shown that a number of external triggers — UV light in general, as well as pollution, skin injuries, rashe