Between working from home, zoom-calling friends, and catching up on your latest Netflix addiction, chances are you’ve been getting a lot of screen time lately. If you’ve looked in the mirror and noticed a few extra lines and wrinkles, it may be more than the stress of these challenging times catching up with you. Could all those hours spent staring at devices be affecting your skin health?
Beauty industry experts have recently flagged the potential skin-aging effect of the unique type of light beaming from your screens. Blue light, also known as “high energy visible light” or “HEV light”, is part of the visible light spectrum seen by the human eye. Each color on the spectrum holds a different energy and wavelength. Red light wavelengths are longer, with less energy. Blue light has shorter wavelengths and produces more energy. HEV is present in daylight and is also emitted by fluorescent lighting and LEDs, including TV screens, smartphones, tablets, and computers.
With many beauty brands hopping on board the anti-HEV marketing wagon, consumers can already purchase primers and day-creams with purported anti-device protection. But is this beauty trend based on scientific truth, or just opportunism and paranoia?
What is screen time doing to your skin?
There is growing concern over the safety of light sources with peak emissions in the blue light range (400-490 nm). This is the part of the spectrum used by the LEDs in the screens of most of our electronic devices. Recent studies aimed at investigating the effect of exposure to light emitted from electronic devices on human skin cells show that even short exposures can increase the generation of reactive oxygen species, which cause oxidative stress. This is known to be one of the primary sources of inflammation-induced skin aging.
Another study highlighted a photosensitive substance called flavin, which responds to blue light. The resulting oxidative stress suggests that blue light contributes to skin aging similarly to UVA from the sun.
Exposure to blue light may be more problematic for skin of color. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, it was shown to cause hyperpigmentation in medium to dark skin, while leaving lighter skin relatively unaffected.
Besides the potentially harmful light exposure during screen time, there is also the risk of increased wrinkles and other signs of aging from computer habits. This is because we tend to sit in the same position for long periods and may even squint or frown excessively. This can lead to frown lines and sagging facial muscles, adding to the impression of aging.
Other damaging effects of blue light
In recent years, we have become increasingly aware of how blue light may affect our eyes. While blue light is detectable to the human eye, large amounts of exposure to this kind of light can be harmful. It can contribute to digital eye strain, dry eyes, and even headaches.
Studies also suggest that blue light exposure, especially in the evening, interrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm. This suppresses melatonin levels and disrupts the sleep cycle. Further research shows that nighttime light exposure (experienced by night-shift workers) may contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
How to protect your skin from screen-related damage
Even though the science remains inconclusive, erring on the side of caution may be wise. So what can you do to prevent and treat the effects of HEV light? Reducing your screen time is the most optimal option to curb its negative effects, but there are solutions for those of us who rely on devices for our everyday lives. Apps like Redshift and f.lux are available to help reduce the blue light your skin is exposed to via technology. Specialists also recommend keeping your devices at a distance while using them and minimizing their brightness.
For products to use on your skin, try looking for creams or serums that are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants like vitamin C, green tea, and resveratrol are your first line of defense when it comes to free radical damage. These antioxidants not only help to repair damaged cells, but they can also help prevent future damage when used regularly.
Eating a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables is a proven way to help protect your skin. Smoking, stress, lack of sleep, and pollution are other factors that are known to age skin, so do your best to avoid them if you want to retain a youthful complexion.