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, rashes and acne — tend to more easily cause hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones.
Do we need to be concerned about LED lightbulbs causing the same sort of skin damage?
More blue light is emitted by LED and fluorescent bulbs than from incandescent bulbs, but the issue with computers and devices, specifically, is that they are so close to your face and therefore more likely to cause damage to the skin. It’s also a little easier to control the amount of blue light you get from LED and fluorescent bulbs because you can buy bulbs that are coated to emit warmer light. Similarly, your TV is probably backlit with LED lighting, but you can get a blue light filter to put over the screen.
What ingredients should we be looking for in our skin care products to protect us from blue light?
Just as antioxidants can help protect skin from the effects of sun exposure, the substances can shield skin from the oxidative stress of blue light. Ideally, these should be present in multiple steps in your skin care routine, just as they should be present in your diet. Exotic, new ingredients aren’t required to protect us from blue light; antioxidants are sprinkled into most good skin care products these days. I love vitamin C and E as well as astaxanthin. Lycopene is also great, and you can find a number of botanical extracts, like white genepi, that demonstrate antioxidant power greater than vitamin C. And while it may seem strange to wear sunscreen when you’re inside most of the day, I strongly suggest it if you’re concerned about blue light. The best sunscreens for blue light are mineral based — specifically, those made with iron oxides.
Are there any hero products that you would recommend people incorporate into their skin care regime?
Sunscreen is the most important thing to focus on. You need to find one that you won’t mind wearing every day. Suntegrity’s formulas are favorites at Ayla because they provide solid sun protection with the bonus of iron oxides (great for blue light) and a skin-perfecting tint. I generally suggest the 5-in-1 Natural Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 30 for those who like a dewy finish and Impeccable Skin SPF 30 for those who prefer a satin finish.
The science seems to say that we need more studies and that current info isn’t as complete as it will be in the near future — what do you hope to see studied further?
There have been some studies on blue light’s effects on the eyes as well as on the brain, but a lot of this is also very new. During the past year, we’ve been living very differently than we had been before. So, a lot of the skin changes that people are observing these days — loss of elasticity, for example — can’t be pinned just on blue light exposure. My guess is that its impact is not as big as that of other factors that are heightened in our lives. Stress, for example, has an enormous impact on the skin — and while it’s a complicated thing to study, that is a relationship that I’d love to see more studies dig into.
Dara’s Daily Dose
I love combining a hydrating serum with a face oil as a moisturizer underneath sunscreen. It gives skin a beautiful glow and makes application easier. Here are some of my favorite serums, which contain hyaluronic acid paired with great antioxidants.” — Dara Kennedy
All products available at www.aylabeauty.com
ULI Ambrosia Beauty Nectar, $185
Marie Veronique for Ayla – Dara’s Oil, $70
MyHavtorn Organic Facial Oil, $50
TWELVE Beauty Ideal Moisture Level Serum, $68
EDITOR’S PICK: Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30, “This sunscreen melts into your skin with zero blue undertones unlike some natural sunscreens, and speaking as someone who has super-reactive skin, this is a dream product.”