Are Your Selfies Aging Your Skin Faster with Blue Light?
It’s 8:15 am, and I’ve already spent 25 minutes on my phone checking Instagram, responding to texts, answering emails, definitely not taking selfies in the dreamy morning light. According to my iPhone, my average screen time per day over the last week is 2 hours 5 minutes, which, kudos to me, is half that of most adults. (1)
But that’s just my iPhone.
Most of us clock upwards of 10 hours a day of total screen time between our phones, tablets, and computers. Not to mention the amount of time we spend under LED light at night, something our ancient ancestors never really had to worry about. All that screen time has some people worried about how blue light exposure might age skin and other brands excited about the product possibilities. If only they can prove it.
Can selfies really cause wrinkles? The spotlight on blue light is foggy at best, but the link is there and worth factoring into your skincare routine.
How is Blue Light Different From Other Light?
The full spectrum of visible light contains red, orange, yellow, green and blue (or blue-violet) light rays that together create white light, or sunlight. On the one end, red light has the longest wavelengths and lowest energy. On the other, blue light has the shortest wavelengths and highest energy. Beyond blue-violet light (and beyond the visible spectrum) is ultra-violet light emitting electromagnetic UV radiation. (2)
Chances are you’re already familiar with the age-accelerating damage of UVA/UVB rays since the research linking them to the skin aging is well documented. Yet, even though blue light sits just next to ultra-violet light on the spectrum, it hasn’t received much attention in terms of research.
Until now. In this era of digital dominance boxed in by screens on all sides and LEDs all hours of the day or night, beauty brands and bloggers are eager to know: Do selfies age the skin?
But Isn’t Blue Light from the Sun Worse?
The primary source of blue light is still the sun, yes. The sum of our digital devices — smartphones, tablets, TVs, computers, and fluorescent bulbs — don’t come close to emitting the level of radiation we’re exposed to from our planet’s star power. You’d have to average 8 hours of screen time each day for four days to get the same level of blue light exposure as 20 minutes in the sun.
That said, our screens are also approximately 93 million miles closer to our face than the sun, and blue light that up-close doesn’t diffuse as much as it would journeying from the center of the galaxy to earth. Emerging and evolving research of late is exploring the impact of longterm, close-up and concentrated doses of blue light from digital devices. The findings are...mixed.
Is Blue Light From Screens Enough to Do Skin Damage?
The link between skin damage and oxidative stress is well documented, but the link between blue light and oxidative stress is less certain. Several studies have demonstrated a connection between blue light exposure and increased generation of free radicals caused by oxidative stress (hello, photoaging and discoloration). At least one has also linked visible light exposure to an increase in enzymes that degrade collagen (cue, winkles). The catch, though, is that many of these studies use a blue light dosage more on par with the sun than electronics. (3, 4, 5)
A more recent 2018 study asserts that exposure to blue light from screens, especially selfie flashes, can cause free radical generation in human skin cells in as little as one hour, suggesting that the potency of our screen times combined might be doing more damage than originally believed. Most experts agree that more research is needed to fully understand just how much blue light is too much blue light for skin to handle. (6)
Shouldn’t Sunscreen Block Blue Light, Too?
Wouldn’t that be convenient? It’s true that blue light rays behave more similarly to ultra-violet rays than other colors on the visible light spectrum, but sunscreen isn’t stopping them as far as we can see through case studies. However, what does seem to block blue light damage effectively are antioxidants, like vitamin C and E, which can be applied topically as a pre-sunscreen or increased through your diet (read up here on how what you eat affects your skin’s health). (7, 8)
I’ve Heard Blue Light Disrupts Sleep, Too. Is That True?
You heard correctly, my friend. How many nights do you end by scrolling through your feed in a numb, end-of-day haze only to wake up feeling (and looking) very much not rested. Blue light at night disrupts our melatonin, the sleep hormone responsible for sending you into sleep mode. This can also throw off your skin’s circadian rhythm — the cycle of nutrient intake by day, repair by night — because if you’re not getting your beauty rest, your skin isn’t either. (9)
The Solution? Evolve into Healthy Blue Light Habits
Humans and the skin we’re in have been thriving and surviving in blue light long before selfies flashed onto the scene. But with the advent of digital everything and the world alight with LEDs 24/7, how’s a modern Homosapien to adapt? Boundaries and healthy habits. Limit your screen time especially before bed (for the sake of your mental health as much as your skin health), invest in a blue light screen protector, set your phone to night mode, and increase your antioxidants within and without. Until more research delivers more concrete connections, brands eager to push a new product to solve the blue light problem are on wobbly ground with their better-safe-than-sorry stance. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you can mitigate the damage yourself.