Updated: May 7, 2020
Time spent in front of a screen is at all-time high. In the last decade, our lifestyles have drastically changed. We spend an average of three hours and fifteen minutes on our phone every day. These sorrowful hours do not include the time we spend in front of our television screens, laptops, tablets, computers and countless of other reflective surfaces. There are obvious problems that arise from this – eye strain, headaches, loneliness, impaired brain function and even weight gain. Now new evidence says that the light emitted from these devices can post a threat to our skin too. Use this post to understand what blue light is, the studies that highlight the effects it can have on the skin and health, and what you can do to prevent these risks.
What is HEV light?
HEV stands for high-energy visible light. It is in the violet-blue band on the visible spectrum, ranging between 380-500 nanometers. It has a short wavelength, but a lot of energy.
The main source of blue light we get is from the sun, but it is also known that technological devices like our smartphones and computer screens (even fluorescent lightbulbs) also emit this same type of light.
HEV light is said to be as powerful as UVA and UVB rays combined, as it makes it past the epidermis, dermis and the hypodermis.
How does this affect our skin?
There have been heavily marketed claims about how the light from our smartphones can damage our skin in the same way UVA and UVB rays can. A handful of published studies have shown how repetitive exposure to the light can cause the breakdown of collagen and elastin and therefore increase the appearance of premature ageing, hyperpigmentation, sensitivity and redness. Some reports show that blue light exposure can slow down the skin’s natural healing system.
A 2008 study tested different wavelength ranges and measured the rate of the skin barrier recovery system on hairless mice. Whilst the red light accelerated barrier recovery, the blue light delayed it.
Lipochemicals, a company that sells chemical ingredients to personal care and pharmaceutical industries, conducted viral research in 2013. The results indicated that HEV light may ‘significantly affect the skin’s inflammatory cascade and it’s progression to healing, barrier recovery, cell cycles and melanogenesis.’ However, it is impossible not to question the integrity of these ‘findings’ when the sale of a HEV blocker ingredient is the company’s main interest.
A more recent trial carried out in 2014, highlighted how the ‘blue-violet light induced a significantly more pronounced hyperpigmentation that lasted up to 3 months’ when applied to our a group of healthy volunteers.
This particular trial reminds me of when I trained in LED facials a few months ago, I was also warned by the clinical trainer to be cautious of applying the blue light to Fitzpatrick skin types 4-6 as there she found there was a high risk of stimulating hyperpigmentation.
Aggressive marketing has also contributed to a widespread fear of blue light. Global beauty brands like Lancome, Dr. Murad, Soap and Glory, Dermaquest and Colorescience have all released products with ‘HEV blockers’ to grow their product sales further and hype up the belief that blue light indefinitely ages our skin.
Despite the variation studies out there and the amount of beauty bloggers and corporations insisting that HEV light is bad for you, there is still not enough research to firmly suggest how repetitive exposure to blue light affects the skin. It’s good to know that there is no evidence to say that HEV light can potentially cause cancer, unlike its neighbouring rays, UVA and UVB light.
Blue light can be beneficial to us.
Blue light is not all bad. It can:
Regulate the body’s circadian rhythm
Improve cognitive function
Improve your mood
As I mentioned as couple paragraphs ago, this light is also used in LED therapy to help combat the P-bacterium that contributes to the development of acne. The blue light treatment is a widely-advised therapy for chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
The Instagrammable LED facial uses blue light to fight off oil and acne. Via @skin_by_meredith
How to reduce your HEV exposure
Even though there is not enough information to determine how bad blue light is for our skin, there is no harm in making a conscious effort to reduce your daily exposure.
Use the blue-light filter that is available on most smartphones. It can also help to lower your screen brightness on your device.
Make sure that antioxidants are a staple in your skincare regime every morning, to fight free radical damage and boost the skin’s barrier and repair system.
Seek a broad-spectrum SPF that contains an HEV light blocker. Here is a list of just some of my favourite mineral SPFs:
Heliocare 360° Gel Oil-Free SPF 50
If you are tired of searching for a non-greasy SPF, then look no further because here it is. Heliocare enrich all their products with Fernblock® FC – a ‘sebum controlling technology’ which also gives extra-added antioxidant protection. It is alcohol and paraben-free, AND protects you from UVA, B and HEV light.
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50
£30.95 for 55ml at skinstore.co.uk
I love Colorescience for their collection of brush-on SPF’s but now they have made up a product that glides on like a silky, tinted moisturiser. It’s a heavy-duty sunblock using Environscreen® technology which protects the skin UV and HEV light and Infrared Radiation (IR) as well as serving a moisturising finish.
ZO Skin Health Sunscreen + Primer SPF 30
£40 at participating UK clinics
via ZO Skin Health
This is another nourishing, tinted SPF that is non-greasy and fast drying. This product makes make-up glide on the skin flawlessly, and uses natural melanin and titanium dioxide to block out UV and HEV exposure.
Blue light has had bad press in the last few years because of upcoming but limited research and beauty brands trying to market their products. The story of how blue light can damage our skin in the same way that UV light can, sells. That’s not to say that HEV light is not entirely good for us either. It can indeed boost our mood and alertness and help as a therapy to some skin conditions in small doses, but there is not enough evidence to say what effect it has on our skin when we are exposed to larger amounts.
We are inevitably welcoming blue light into our lives, our homes and our workplaces more now than ever before, and the statistics are only going to increase. My advice is to take a walk on the safe side, choose a broad-spectrum SPF that has the technology to protect you from HEV and UVA rays. Fight free radical damage with an antioxidant in your morning skincare and make use of that blue-light filter on your device. All these things we should be doing anyway, whether we choose to believe HEV light is bad for you or not.