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Blue Light

What it is, its effects, and how to protect yourself and your skin

By Kristin Carlson, Medical Esthetician

What is blue light, and why is it bad? Blue light is a color in the visible light spectrum. It has one of the shortest wavelengths in the light spectrum, resulting in the highest amount of energy. In its natural form, blue light comes from the sun and helps regulate the body's circadian rhythm—the natural sleep and wake cycles. It also boosts alertness, heightens reaction times, elevates moods and promotes an overall feeling of well-being. Blue light in its artificial form comes from digital screens (TVs, computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets), electronic devices, and fluorescent and LED lighting. Prolonged exposure to blue light in this form causes eye strain, headaches, physical and mental fatigue.

Over time, exposure to the blue end of the light spectrum can cause long-term damage to your eyes and to your skin. The natural filters in our eyes are not capable of providing enough protection against blue light rays in any form. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause retinal damage and contribute to age-related macular degeneration—and in some cases, vision loss.

While blue light in small amounts can help elevate your mood, increase alertness and regulate sleep patterns, chronic exposure to blue light, specifically at night, can have the opposite effect, lowering the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, by disrupting the circadian rhythm and negatively affecting your mood.

It is common knowledge: UV light can cause damage to the skin. Because of its shorter wavelength, blue light penetrates deeper than UV light. Long-term blue light exposure can cause skin damage, including discoloration, inflammation and weakening of the skin's surface, which causes collagen and elastin to break down, resulting in fine lines, wrinkles and sagging.

How to protect yourself?

• Wear an SPF rich in antioxidants, vitamin C and/or iron oxide. Unfortunately, not all sunscreens block blue light, so read the labels before you buy.

• Stylish eyewear is in! Purchase a pair of blue light blockers for the time you spend in front of any screen. There are some great inexpensive options out there.

• Also, invest in screen protectors with blue light blocking technology for all your screens, including your desktop computer and cellular device.

• Use the settings on your smartphone to shift the colors of your display to “night mode.” This emits warmer tones with longer wavelengths, causing less strain on the eyes at night when the body is more susceptible to blue light effects.

• Limit your screen time in the evening. Resist the urge to scroll social media when you crawl into bed at night. Instead, opt for a book or magazine to help you settle down for a good night's rest.

For most of us, avoiding screen time is next to impossible, but we can take simple steps to ensure we are taking care of the long-term health of our eyes, skin and overall well-being. And don’t forget about your kiddos! Their young minds and bodies are still developing and need protection too.

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