Statistics vary, but on average, Americans spend about ten hours a day in front of screens—phones, computers, you name it. Screens emit blue light, the light ray that has the shortest wavelength and highest energy of the spectrum, which includes red, orange, green and more. Often when we think about light rays, we think about the sun. It's true, the sun is the largest emitter of blue light, but due to their proximity to our face and the amount of concentrated time we spend around them, it's screens that we should be most concerned about.
Some blue light is essential and good for us. It helps us maintain circadian rhythms and positively impacts alertness and memory. But as we've always heard, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. We know that overexposure to blue light can damage the retinas of our eyes, but our skin is not out of harm's way either. Dr. Jame Heskett, author of The Well Path, spoke to Verily about the hype currently surrounding blue light risks. Read ahead before you look at your phone in bed again!
Are the rumors true that skin damage from blue light can be as bad as UV damage over time?
Dr. Heskett: The research on this is thin, however, it has been fairly well documented that short-term use of blue light does not cause acute damage to the skin. The studies of short term usage show some changes in the way the skin behaves, but it has not been able to directly relate that to accelerated aging or disease. Most of the research has been done on eye cells as it relates to exposure to blue light, but I think we can safely say it is likely that all our cells are at risk when we chronically expose them to blue light. Many studies have only looked at small windows of time. As we continue to increase or time spent around screens (with more and more things becoming digital), we're increasing our long-term risk factor.
What kind of damage is happening?
Dr. Heskett: The primary pathway of damage is the generation of free radicals when exposed to the light. Collagen and elastin, when exposed to free radicals, weaken and die. Free radicals also damage the DNA of our cells. Damage to the DNA in our cells is what sets the body up for developing cancer.
Why does everyone say to stay away from phones at night?
Dr. Heskett: Much of that has to do with circadian rhythms and being able to fall asleep. But we also know that cellular repair is greatest at night, so there is a potential lethal combination here for the skin (and other cells). The use of screens at night means that you are accelerating the production of free radicals so your cells are being damaged at an accelerated rate which means your body's natural healing and regeneration process during sleep is being compromised. It is like a perfect storm.
What is the best way to prevent skin damage from tech devices?
01. Limit Exposure
Dr. Heskett: The best way to protect yourself from the effects of blue light is to use one of the available blue light blockers either in the form of eye glasses or a specialized screen that filters blue light that you put over your device. You can also change the settings on your computer and phone to adjust the level of blue light. Blue light tends to increase as the ambient light decreases, and most of our computers and phones automatically adjust this. By manually changing the settings, you'll help yourself some.
02. Nutrition and Face Massage
Dr. Heskett: A diet rich in antioxidants throughout the day will help neutralize those free radicals. Morning noon and night you should be eating highly pigmented fruits and veggies. Facial lymphatic drainage, a.k.a., DIY face massage, is also a good recourse for blue light damage. Free radicals are removed through our lymphatic system. If that system is slow or stagnant it’s like a big traffic jam; the longer your cells are exposed to free radicals, the worse the damage is. Small natural-bristle facial brushes are inexpensive and readily available. Follow the pathway of the lymphatic toward the heart for two minutes or so a day (see a demonstration of this here), and this will make a positive impact.
03. Invest in a Good Face Cream
Dr. Heskett: Trust me, a good moisturizer will be worth the investment. My number one go to is HyrdroPeptide’s Nimni Cream. Not only does it act as an antioxidant, but it also repairs the damage done to your DNA. Editor's note: Another great brand that specializes in blue light damage reduction is Luzern, specifically the Le Defense Urban Protect line of products.