We’re regularly told that looking at screens is bad for us. Bad for our eyes. Bad for our sleeping habits. But did you know the blue light from phone, tablet or laptop screens could also be causing your skin to age faster?
For thousands of years, we lived a lifestyle where we were exposed to natural light during the day, which would gradually fade to darkness before it was time to sleep. Now, we spend less time outdoors during the day, and expose ourselves to light right up until it’s time to go to bed.
This causes all sorts of disruptions to our body clock and functions. The most well-known being the fact that blue light disrupts our sleep.
Our body’s natural circadian rhythm is intrinsically linked to the light we are exposed to. But not all wavelengths of light affect us equally. Studies have shown blue wavelengths, which boost mood, reduce reaction times and increase our attention spans, are the most disruptive at night.
In particular, the light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone usually produced when darkness falls and which helps our bodies realise it’s time to go to sleep. In fact, a study by Harvard found blue light suppresses melatonin production for twice as long as green light.
The impact of blue light on skin has not been studied as extensively as its impact on our sleeping habits but there is an increasing body of research that shows blue light can speed up the ageing process of skin. And it works through a process called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is caused when there is an imbalance between free radicals – molecules containing oxygen with an uneven number of electrons – and antioxidants, molecules with additional electrons they donate to stabilise the free radicals. When there are too many free radicals, oxidative stress occurs.
Free radicals are good, to an extent, because they help fight off pathogens, which lead to disease. However, if they’re left unchecked, for example if there aren’t enough antioxidants, they can start to damage the body’s protein, DNA and fatty tissues. You can read more about this in our guide to the best foods for skin.
This can lead to diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Plus oxidative stress can cause ageing when it happens in the skin cells.
A study published in 2018 by researchers at the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, looked into the impact of light from screens on premature ageing.
“Recent studies aimed at investigating the effect of exposure to light emitted from electronic device on human skin cells, show that even short exposures can increase the generation of reactive oxygen species,” the authors wrote. Even being exposed for as little as one hour started to damage skin cells, the paper explains.
Because of its short wavelengths blue light can also penetrate deep into our skin. This means it reaches the dermis layer, where our collagen and elastin exists. These are proteins which give skin its flexibility and elasticity and when the cells that produce them are damaged, through oxidative stress, skin starts to sag and become wrinkly.
So what can you do to prevent the damage from blue light?
“To limit early skin ageing due to blue light, I would recommend decreasing the brightness of your device and moving to further away as this will reduce the intensity and proximity that blue light has on your skin,” Dhruvin Patel, a specialist in the impact of blue light told mamabella.
“You can also use a blue light screen protector, which goes directly onto the screen,” says Patel. Patel is the founder of Ocushield, which sells screen protectors that can be applied directly to your phone, tablet or computer or worn as glasses.
“This filters out the harmful blue light so you can enjoy watching Netflix or uploading a picture to IG without worrying about your skin.”
Beyond protectors, there is a huge range of products available on the market to help you manage your blue light exposure.
£44 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
This Coola UV cream is SPF 30, but it doubles up as blue light protection. It also protects from infrared and it’s oil-free.
£60 | Buy now from Murad
For anyone looking for a higher SPF with blue light protection, this could be the product for you. It also helps colour correct the tone of your skin, making it perfect as a last step in your skincare routine before makeup.
£110 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
At £110 for 30ml, this serum is not cheap. In fact, it’s borderline extortionate but Dr Barbara Sturm’s anti-pollution drops claim to protect from UV, free radicals and blue light, while also moisturising the skin.
£46 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
This mist uses marine microorganisms for their natural radiation resistance properties, but they are grown in a lab instead of being harvested from the sea.
These organisms were chosen for their ability to thrive in inhospitable environments. In the mist they are said to counteract the damage caused by blue light by stimulating damaged cells and kick-starting their growth.
£24.99 | Buy now from Ocushield
If you want to combat the light at its source, you can buy screens for your devices. The company also sells glasses with blue light filters in the lenses, which won’t stop the damage to your skin but will help your circadian rhythm.
Abigail is a leading science journalist writing about space, sustainability, technology and culture. She is author of The Art of Urban Astronomy, a must-have guide to the night sky that guides you through the seasons and learn about the brightest stars and constellations, the myths and legends of astronomy and how to identify star clusters and galaxies.