Your skin is in a constant battle with all manner of enemies. Factors such as poor diet, ultra-violet (UV) rays and air pollution are just but a few. The list is not getting shorter as blue light may have just joined the enemy camp fighting your skin. A lot of the top cosmetic brands are now bringing out creams to protect against blue light. Now, the questions to answers are, ‘how does blue light affect the skin?’ and ‘how concerned should you be?’
Blue light is the high energy portion of visible light. You see, the light that we perceive with our eyes is most often than not a mixture of colours or waves. On one side, we have red light which borders the infrared rays and on the other hand blue light sitting at the far end of the spectrum. Here, it borders the infamous ultraviolet rays and in doing so, shares some of the harmful properties of UV. To begin with, blue light is characterized by shorter wavelengths and higher frequencies. Higher frequencies translate to higher energy waves with deeper skin penetrating capabilities; a classic illustration of ‘show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are’. So, should you be concerned? The answer is yes.
How does blue light affect the skin?
Considerable research has highlighted some of the negative effects of blue light to your skin. A Miami based dermatologist recently concluded that in fact, blue light exposure had the potential of inducing more pigmentation in darker skin types. On top of that, a 2010 research study published the conclusion that not only did enhanced pigmentation occur, but it lasted for much longer in skin exposed to blue light.
In the same report, exposure to blue light was also said to cause redness and swelling of the skin. Other equally worrying effects linked to blue light include wrinkling of the skin, increased skin sagging and post-acne dark spot development. With so much damage being attributed to something as mundane as light, it is imperative that we look at the underlying science behind the effects.
Skin layers explain
To begin with, we will first have to consider the basic structure of human skin. The human skin is made up of three main layers; epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Lying at the top is the epidermis which contains melanin-producing melanocytes. Melanocytes are responsible for the absorption of light rays which contain both blue light and ultraviolet rays. For this reason, the epidermis is of great interest in blue light-skin interaction.
Deeper into the skin is the dermis layer. It is here that we find the proteins collagen and elastin. Collagen forms the building blocks of the skin while elastin is responsible for the ability of the skin to stretch. These two work in harmony to maintain the tightness of the skin around the body resulting in overall smoothness.
The last layer is the hypodermis. It majorly made up of the subcutaneous fat layer which is responsible for thermal insulation. Little occurs here in relation to blue light-skin interaction and we therefore won’t focus much on it.
At the epidermis, blue light is absorbed by the melanocytes in a similar manner to that of ultraviolet rays’ absorption. As a matter of fact, blue light has been shown to penetrate the skin deeper than ultraviolet light rays. Once absorbed, the excessive energy may set off or worsen pigmentation.
DNA damage of the skin
Further into the skin layers, blue light waves cause the generation of reactive oxygen species, otherwise known as radicals. Radicals induce destructive chain reaction which ultimately lead to DNA damage. Physically, this is manifested by inflammation of the skin, redness and hyperpigmentation. It is at this point that collagen and elastin are broken down. Destruction of these two proteins sets off wrinkling and ‘sagging’ of the skin. Naturally, collagen and elastin breakdown occurs as a person ages but now in the presence of blue light, the process occurs faster. This leads to what dermatologist commonly refer to as premature ageing of the skin.
Having looked at all that, let’s consider is the different sources of blue light. Blue light is emitted by the sun, your computer’s screen, phone, tablet and other digital devices. It seems obvious to claim that blue light waves of the sun are much stronger than from digital devices, and in fact it is true. What is not so clear is if the blue light from screen’s or lighting around us is strong enough to cause a noticeable difference? Certainly not through a few hours, but the cumulative exposure? Maybe so. 20 minutes outside on the beach is the equivalent of spending 5.5 days looking at your smartphone. You wouldn’t spend a few minutes on a sunny beach let alone 20 minutes. You can also use an Ocushield blue light screen protector which will limit the blue light from your devices if you don’t want to use any cosmetic products or when you’re having a lazy day indoors with no skin based products on.