BLUE LIGHT, BAD NEWS?
03 May 2019

Summer, and all that glorious sunshine, is just around the corner. Your clients should already be well versed in the dangers of UVA and UVB rays, but another ‘silent ager’ which they may be unaware of is: blue light.

Blue light is a topic hotter than the scorching summer we had last year. Like UV rays, the biggest source is the sun, but it’s also emitted by the hypnotic glow of the ubiquitous devices and computer screens that we’re becoming increasingly dependent on. According to Ofcom, we’re spending more than a day a week online. People are, on average, online for 24 hours a week, twice as long as 10 years ago. More worryingly, one in five of all adults spend as much as 40 hours a week on the web and this is particularly true of millennials. So what’s all this blue light exposure doing to our health and skin?

WHAT IS BLUE LIGHT?

First, let’s look at what blue light is. Did you know that a lot of the ‘white’ light we’re exposed to is actually made up of blue rays, which have short wavelengths and more energy than warmer colours found in light, such as red and orange? Blue light gives the sky that beautiful blue colour on a cloudless day.

THE SILENT AGGRESSOR

Although research into the effects of blue light on skin is still in its infancy, there is mounting evidence to suggest that it has an ageing effect. A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that when participants were exposed to equivalent levels of UVA and blue rays, they experienced more pigment, redness and swelling after the blue light exposure.

Another study published in the Journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity suggested that over exposure to blue light, might stimulate the production of free radicals. Dermatologists are increasingly seeing pigmentation on the sides of the face, where a mobile phone would be held, giving credence to the view that hand held devices cause skin damage.

Environ® founder Dr Des Fernandes agrees that there is a link between exposure to blue light and pigmentation. “I believe that the blue section of the light spectrum may well have an important role in initiating and promoting the production of melanin”, he says.

OUT OF RHYTHM

Blue light is partly responsible for governing our circadian rhythm, making us feel awake during the day and sleepy at night. However, too much screen time before bed interferes with this process because it suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, tricking the body into thinking it’s daytime, hence the advice to turn devices off at least an hour before hitting the hay.* It isn’t called beauty sleep for nothing as without 7-8 hours a night, skin won’t renew and repair itself effectively. Blue light also interferes with the circadian rhythm of skin cells themselves, along with other ‘internal clocks’ and this has even been linked to cancer.**

A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES

Eyes are adept at filtering out most UV rays, but this isn’t the case with blue light. According to the charity Prevent Blindness, blue light from computer screens can cause digital eye strain. Studies have also linked it to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Computer glasses with yellow-tinted lenses that block blue light can help ease computer digital eye strain by increasing contrast.

BLUE LIGHT BRIGADE

Reducing time spent on our beloved devices may strike fear into the hearts of many, but help is at hand. So called ‘tech shields’ can be attached to screens to reduce the amount of blue light being given off, and many devices have a night mode app which has a similar effect.

Although reducing screen time and using tech shields where appropriate will help to decrease our exposure to blue light, it’s important to remember that the sun is still the biggest source of damaging rays.

The temptation may be to recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, but this won’t defend against blue light unless it contains a ‘physical’ mineral sunscreen like iron oxide. Products to recommend to clients include Environ’s RAD Antioxidant Sunscreen as well as jane iredale PurePressed® Base and Amazing Base.

Like UV rays, blue light has been shown to increase oxidative stress in skin† so applying antioxidants topically is a must in order to mop up the free radicals this generates. “A multi-level approach is needed”, says our Training Director Tracy Tamaris. “This should include physical blocks such as titanium dioxide and low level organic sunscreens as well as a brigade of antioxidants which should be used topically and orally. Include those that specifically block blue light such as lutein, lycopene and astaxanthin. Antioxidants form a reservoir in the deeper layers of the skin and deactivate damaging free radicals.

EVERYTHING IN MODERATION

Although it gets a negative press, blue light isn’t all bad. A moderate amount boosts alertness, helps memory, cognitive function and elevates mood – it’s actually emitted by the lamps used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) so as with all things, knowledge and appropriate application is key.

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*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5473809/ **https://febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1016/j.febslet.2010.03.017. †Blue light-induced oxidative stress in live skin. Nakashima Y1, Ohta S1, Wolf AM2. ∞Astareal 2017