Blue light, is the part of the spectrum of visible light, a high-energy, short-wavelength light (not to be confused with UVA or UVB rays), says Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at New York University.
The main source of the blue light we're exposed to is the sun, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, we also get a significant dose from our computer and phone screens and indoor lighting. "It has been reported to contribute to eye strain as well as cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye disease," Marchbein says.
But blue light isn't all bad. "Blue light plays a critical role in maintaining good health, as it regulates our body's circadian rhythm — our natural sleep-wake cycle," Meenakashi Gupta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, previously told Allure. "Blue light also elevates mood and helps memory and cognitive function."
Is blue light damaging your skin?
Recently, you might have noticed some of your favorite skin-care brands coming out with blue-light-fighting products — so, does that mean it's damaging your skin? "Visible light, especially in the blue wavelength, has become a hot topic in skin care, as there is mounting evidence that supports its contribution to photo-aging, including wrinkles, worsening skin laxity, and hyperpigmentation," says Marchbein.
Research on how blue light affects your skin is ongoing, but what dermatologists know so far doesn't look good. One small, peer-reviewed study of the effects of blue light on the skin, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2010, found that exposing skin to the amount of blue light we get from the sun caused more pigment, redness, and swelling than when the same person's skin was exposed to comparable levels of UVA rays.
The effects were only observed in people with darker skin tones, but the researchers noted that pigmentation also lasted longer. "This study absolutely makes us realize that blue light produces visible skin change, including redness and pigmentation," Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami and co-founder of Dr. Loretta skin care, tells Allure.
Another study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, suggested that exposure to blue light might stimulate the production of free radicals in skin, which can accelerate the appearance of aging.
The bottom line?The blue light effect on skin needs more research before we can draw any solid conclusions, though early evidence seems to suggest it has the potential to be damaging.
So, what exactly is the blue light doing?
"Dermatologists have good evidence to show that visible light triggers certain skin conditions, such as melasma, where the skin is stimulated to produce more pigment," says Marchbein. "There's also evidence that as blue light penetrates the skin, reactive oxygen species are generated, which leads to DNA damage, thereby causing inflammation and the breakdown of healthy collagen and elastin, as well as hyperpigmentation."
To recap:We know blue light can cause damage to the skin; whether or not we really have to worry about our digital devices (versus blue light emitted from the sun) is still in question.
"There is inconclusive evidence as to whether or not digital screens themselves can actually produce enough light to cause serious skin damage," Marchbein explains. "Although recently, scientific data points to blue light in general, penetrating into the skin contributing to wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and aging, so the more time we spend on our digital devices (4 hours or more), the worse off our skin might be."
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