One Major Effect of Blue Light on Your Skin, Says Research

A dermatologist weighs in on the current research behind how a social media scrolling habit and our other dependence on electronics is affecting our skin health in an unexpected way. Plus, the skincare product to help combat it.

By now, we’ve all heard that heavy phone, computer, or tablet use doesn’t do our health any favors. In addition to “doomscrolling,” toxic productivity from overwork and other psychological effects of spending too much time tapping away on a device, there’s more: our digital devices emit blue light, a high-energy, short-wavelength form of visible light. This has its effects, too—to start, a review in the International Journal of Ophthalmology suggested this light can easily pass through your eyes’ protective layers to cause damage that may contribute to dry eye, cataracts and macular degeneration.

Research published in Chronobiology International also found that late-night blue light exposure also disrupts the body’s melatonin production, impacting sleep quality. Not to mention that hours in front of your laptop or tablet can invite poor posture, headaches, digital eye strain and overuse injuries that can cause pain or stiffness in your upper body, arms and hands. (We know—we can relate.)

And, that’s not even all. It turns out, experts are finding that blue light can actually be damaging to your skin.

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One major effect of blue light on your skin

Blue light can indeed penetrate deeply into the skin. Board-certified dermatologist Rebecca Marcus, MD, says research on this is still in its early stages, but it’s thought that like ultraviolet (UV) light, blue light causes damage over time. “Although we may not notice any effects in the short term, it’s likely contributing to collagen breakdown, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation gradually,” Dr. Marcus tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest.

One study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that blue light exposure causes what’s called “oxidative stress” through the formation of free radicals. “This, in turn, damages DNA,” Dr. Marcus explains.

That damage causes a breakdown in our collagen and elastin, two proteins that keep the skin looking plump and youthful.

Further, other research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology pointed to blue light as a possible contributor to skin photoaging, triggering pigmentation problems and exacerbating tough-to-treat skin conditions like melasma. Prolonged exposure may also weaken your skin barrier, per a review published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. This can open the door to issues like skin sensitivity, dryness, redness, and breakouts.

In a nutshell: the current body of research suggests that, over time, unprotected blue light exposure can contribute to skin sagging, wrinkling, pigmentation, and sensitivity.

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How can I protect my skin against blue light?

The truth is, it might be more practical to manage this effect than to change our behavior. And fortunately, while research on the topic continues, experts say there’s no harm in prepping your skin against potential blue light damage.

And when it comes to the skin’s defenses, sunscreen should be on your front line. Dr. Marcus says to look for a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen with zinc oxide and iron oxide for protection. “Whereas chemical sunscreens only protect against UVA and UVB light, physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide and iron oxide act to physically shield the skin from a broad spectrum of light, including blue light.”

It’s also important to wear sunscreen every day, even if you aren’t outside. Not only can harmful rays reach your skin through a window (not practicing this is a common sunscreen mistake)—but also, Dr. Marcus says, “blue light is the same whether it comes from the sun or our screens.” So if you skip sunscreen when you’re indoors, you’ve got no protection against your screen’s blue emissions.

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There are some key ingredients in skin care products to keep on hand, too. “Antioxidants will help protect against oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals,” Dr. Marcus says. “So, look for antioxidants such as vitamin C, which does double duty as it helps to prevent hyperpigmentation as well.” (To get you started, we asked dermatologists for their favorite vitamin C serums.)

She also recommends skincare products that contain niacinamide, a form of vitamin B-3. This antioxidant has anti-inflammatory properties, and research shows it can support your skin barrier, improve texture and tone, and smooth fine lines.

Also, a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that it also has the potential to protect your skin against pigmentation caused by blue light. Learn more about the benefits of niacinamide for your skin, plus expert tips on how to use it for the best results.

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Sources

People:

Rebecca Marcus, MD, a board-certified dermatologist

Journals:

International Journal of Ophthalmology: "Research progress about the effect and prevention of blue light on eyes."

Chronobiology International: "Systematic review of light exposure impact on human circadian rhythm."

Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Blue-Violet Light Irradiation Dose Dependently Decreases Carotenoids in Human Skin, Which Indicates the Generation of Free Radicals."

Journal of Investigative Dermatology: "Melanocytes Sense Blue Light and Regulate Pigmentation through Opsin-3."

Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology: "Blue Light Protection, Part I-Effects of blue light on the skin."

International Journal of Cosmetic Science: "Pigmentation effects of blue light irradiation on skin and how to protect against them."

Leslie Finlay
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.