Is blue light prematurely ageing your skin?
UV light is a well-known cause of premature skin ageing. More importantly UV light is a well-known cause of skin cancer. These two facts have only recently been deeply understood and validated.
Today it is widely known sunbeds can cause premature ageing and skin cancer.
Today it is known unprotected sun exposure, especially during peak hours has a high potential to cause pigmentation disorders, skin sagging, laxing, collagen degradation, wrinkles and skin cancer.
Today it is known small doses of UV light may be beneficial and needed for complete skin health, however that the average daily exposure – especially in a holiday setting is detrimental.
Increasing education into the damaging effects of UV light on skin is continuing – however while the damaging and pro-ageing effects of UV light are well-investigated – there could be a new worry – blue light.
Blue light exposure has increased significantly over the last 2 decades.
Blue light is present in visible light, however is also present in devices such as computer screens, tablets, smart phones and TV screens. The average American now spends more than 11 hours per day interacting with media according to market research company Neilson1. The over-whelming majority of this consumption occurs on blue light emitting devices.
Skin exposure to blue light is increasing. Could it be prematurely ageing your skin?
What is blue light?
Blue light is a member of the visible light family i.e. types of light that a person can see. The visible spectrum is characterised by wavelengths of light which range from 380 to 700nm – a range which can be visualised as a rainbow of light from violet to red. Violet and blue light make up the first half of this range with blue light being specifically referred to as light which has a wavelength of between 450 to 495nm. Visible light is radiation with a greater wavelength than UV light however a shorter wavelength than infrared light.
All types of visual display emit visible light because without emission of visible light their imagery would not be visible to the human eye. It is however important to note standard modern day displays such as tablets and LED backlight devices emit visible light to a much greater strength in the blue light spectrum2.
What does blue light do to your skin?
Fact is investigations into the effects of blue light on skin are still ongoing. Much is known about the effects of blue light on skin cells in a petri dish i.e. in vitro. A paper published in the journal of Dermatological Science in 20163 made the following conclusions;
- Blue-violet light of 412, 419 and 426nm (and up to 453nm) decreases skin cell proliferation and promotes keratinocyte differentiation i.e. it does not look like blue light can cause skin cancer, however may be beneficial for skin conditions caused by hyper-proliferation i.e. psoriasis4.
- Note: High doses of blue light were found to be cytotoxic, however doses up to 500 J/cm2 can be used without cytotoxic effects.
- Blue light causes the production of free radicals in skin i.e. blue light has potential to cause premature ageing.
- Blue-violet light of 415nm is pro-pigmenting in people with Fitzpatrick skin type’s III and IV i.e. fairly sensitive/fair skin.
The same paper also makes the following recommendation;
- Dark skinned individuals and melasma-prone individuals should use adapted photo protection which blocks blue light to therefore help avoid hyper pigmented lesions i.e. age spots, pigmentation and melasma.
But does blue light damage skin? Is blue light pro-ageing? Of specific help to answering this question is the finding that blue light can cause production of free radicals within skin.
Free radicals are high energy atoms or molecules which can cause considerable damage to the skin i.e. free radicals can promote skin ageing. Free radicals are most commonly caused by air pollution and UV light exposure.
A 2015 study published in the journal of oxidative medicine and cellular longevity5 showed blue light can cause a significant degradation of carotenoids – a type of antioxidant. On exposure to blue light (380 to 495nm, average of 440nm) of 50 J/cm2 a 13.5% carotenoid reduction was seen and on exposure to blue light of 100 J/cm2 a 21.2% reduction in carotenoids was seen. Both tests were completed at an irradiation intensity of 100 W/cm2 which is noted as being above natural conditions – however as also achievable in natural conditions.
Also of interest is the fact this study was completed in vivo i.e. on the skin of humans. The conclusion – blue light exposure can cause a significant generation of free radicals inside of the skin.
However what does this finding mean in a real-life setting? Is the light emitted by a computer monitor likely to cause the same impact to skin?
Do computer monitors damage skin?
Skin exposure to blue light is a daily occurrence whether a person uses or does not use computer screens. Blue light is a part of the visible light spectrum and therefore blue light exposure is common. The following statistic puts blue light exposure into perspective i.e. what a person would without computer screen exposure, experience;
- In America or Europe at midday it would take 51.75 minutes for skin to be exposed to 50J/cm2 of blue-violet light6
Putting blue light exposure into perspective, the following statistics describe foreseeable blue light exposure from computer monitors and tablets;
- Using an LED screen 54 centimetres away from a person’s skin, set at 50% brightness would take 59.63 days to be exposed to 50 J/cm27
- A kindle paper white sat 35cm from a person’s face would take 40.5 days to expose a person to 50 J/cm2 of visible light8
- An iPad screen displaying a white background, on auto brightness sat 35cm away from a person’s face would take 5.2 days to expose a person to 50 J/cm2 of visible light
- An iPhone 5s displaying text on a white background, used 22.5cm away from a person’s face would take 29.25 days to expose a persons to 50 J/cm2 of visible light.
- An iMac computer screen with text on a white background set to auto brightness would take 1.6 days to expose a person to 50 J/cm2 of visible light9.
Take away: The amount of blue light exposure a person will experience from using devices is significantly lower than normal, everyday exposure to blue light as part of the visible light spectrum – for example it takes over 36 times longer for an iMac computer screen to deliver the same dose of blue light exposure.
Key facts a person should be aware of when using or choosing a screen or device;
- LCD screens produce 40% more visible light than CRT screens
- LED screens produce 80% more visible light than CRT screens
- Screens with white backgrounds produce more visible light
- The brightness function impacts the amount of visible light a person is exposed to
Therefore a person may help minimise their blue light exposure by;
- Turning a devices theme to a dark and not white theme
- Reducing the brightness of a screen
- Using a filter which will reduce the amount of blue light emitted by a device – these can often be placed directly on top of a computer screen or mobile phone
- Newer devices are more likely to emit greater proportions of blue light – therefore this may be a consideration when investing in a new product
Takeaway: There are easy to act upon changes which can help a person minimise the pro-oxidant effects of blue light on skin.
Is blue light safe for skin?
As part of the visible spectrum – limited daily exposure to blue light should not cause significant damage to skin. Certainly blue light does not appear to have the same cytotoxic effects as UV light can.
However it should also be noted scientists do not yet fully understand the impact which blue light induced free radicals may have on skin ageing. For anyone concerned about ageing or pigmentation – preventative steps should be taken.
Ways to help reduce or avoid the impact of blue light on skin;
- Daily use of an antioxidant serum such as our griffin+row Enrich antioxidant night cream – topical antioxidants help replenish skin’s antioxidant reserves, therefore using skincare high in antioxidants can help mitigate the effects of blue light
- Use a sunscreen with blue light protection – as the effects of blue light on skin are being discovered certain new sunscreen launches now include blue light protection – working similarly to UV filters, actives which protect against blue light can help prevent blue light induced skin changes – note SPF alone is believed to have minimal impact on the free radical induction of blue light10
- Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants to help replenish lost reserves of skin antioxidants
- Minimise screen time where possible – replace a kindle with a book
- Watch screens from a sensible distance – the closer a screen is to skin, the greater its dose of blue light
- Tuning down brightness settings will help reduce daily doses of blue light
- Using blue light filters which sit on top of visual displays will also help reduce daily doses of blue light
Is blue light harmful?
While blue light may cause a slight acceleration of skin ageing, blue light should not be feared. Take for instance the serendipity of UV light – small doses of UV light are healthy, however large and extended doses of UV light are not. The poison is in the dose.
Blue light is a member of the visible light family and therefore complete avoidance would neither be sensible or healthy. It is however worth noting modern day blue light exposure is significantly greater than it was just a decade ago i.e. the extended effects of blue light exposure are not known.
Bottom line: As it is suspected the impact of blue light on skin is largely due to the generation of free radicals, the best course of protection is to use antioxidant rich skincare daily.
How to protect skin from blue light
While there are many ways in which a person may help protect against the potentially damaging effects of blue light. The following 3 changes will have best impact;
- Ensuring a followed skincare routine is rich in antioxidants
Antioxidant such as vitamin E, vitamin C and green tea are noted to be highly beneficial for skin. To date one of the strongest antioxidants known to man is resveratrol – an ingredient naturally found in red grape extract. Most of our griffin+row skincare products use centess+complex which harness the antioxidant power of red grape extract alongside several other naturally anti-ageing actives.
- Using sun protection with blue light filters
SPF alone will not help protect skin against blue light damage. SPF filters help absorb or reflect light of specific wavelengths. The filters used in most sunscreen products only protect skin against wavelengths of light which fall in the UV spectrum. Blue light filters are an up and coming field and therefore there is to date no recognised rating system for blue light protection i.e. a sunscreen will tell a person it has ‘blue light protection’ but there will not be a rating system for a person to decide how suitable or how strong the blue light protection is.
- Using blue light filters on frequently used devices
Prevention is always better than cure and something as simple as using a blue light filter on top of a screen will help reduce daily doses of blue light. Blue light filters are inexpensive – a person should invest in buying one for any device they use close to their face and any device they use often. This would usually cover a person’s mobile phone and desktop computer if working in an office environment.
Take-away: The overall effects of blue light damage on skin are not known however it is known blue light induces the creation of free radicals inside of skin i.e. has potential to pro-age skin. Acting on the above 3 changes will help protect and prevent potential blue light induced skin ageing.
References and sources
- Reading from an iPad or from a book in bed: the impact on human sleep. A randomized controlled crossover trial. Janne Grønli, Ida Kristiansen Byrkjedal, Bjørn Bjorvatn, Øystein Nødtvedt, Børge Hamre, Ståle Pallesen
Sleep Med. 2016 May; 21: 86–92. Published online 2016 Mar 2. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.02.006
- The skin aging exposome. Jean Krutmann, Anne Bouloc, Gabrielle Sore, Bruno A. Bernard, Thierry Passeron
J Dermatol Sci. 2016 Sep 28 Published online 2016 Sep 28. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2016.09.015
- Das RP, Jain AK, Ramesh V. Current concepts in the pathogenesis of psoriasis. Indian J Dermatol. 2009;54(1):7-12.
- Blue-Violet Light Irradiation Dose Dependently Decreases Carotenoids in Human Skin, Which Indicates the Generation of Free Radicals Staffan Vandersee, Marc Beyer, Juergen Lademann, Maxim E. Darvin
Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015; 2015: 579675. Published online 2015 Feb 9. doi: 10.1155/2015/579675
- Blue-Violet Light Irradiation Dose Dependently Decreases Carotenoids in Human Skin, Which Indicates the Generation of Free Radicals, Staffan Vandersee, Marc Beyer, Juergen Lademann, Maxim E. Darvin
Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015; 2015: 579675. Published online 2015 Feb 9. doi: 10.1155/2015/579675
- Tim C. Lei, Srinivas Pendyala, Larry Scherrer, Buhong Li, Gregory F. Glazner, and Zheng Huang, “Optical profiles of cathode ray tube and liquid crystal display monitors: implication in cutaneous phototoxicity in photodynamic therapy,” Appl. Opt. 52, 2711-2717 (2013)
- Gringras P, Middleton B, Skene DJ, Revell VL. Bigger, Brighter, Bluer-Better? Current Light-Emitting Devices – Adverse Sleep Properties and Preventative Strategies. Front Public Health. 2015;3:233. Published 2015 Oct 13. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2015.00233
- Rosanna Avola, Adriana Carol Eleonora Graziano, Giovanna Pannuzzo, Francesco Bonina and Venera Cardile, Hydroxytyrosol from olive fruits prevents blue‐light‐induced damage in human keratinocytes and fibroblasts, Journal of Cellular Physiology, , (2018).
- Irradiation of Skin with Visible Light Induces Reactive Oxygen Species and Matrix-Degrading Enzymes
Liebel, Frank et al. Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Volume 132 , Issue 7 , 1901 – 1907