Research has shown time and time again that the sun is good for the soul but not the skin. Dermatologists stress the importance of daily ultraviolet (UV) protection. Wearing sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and broad-spectrum sunscreen for outdoor activities is essential, but studies suggest you may need to be cautious indoors, too.
Wearing sunscreen in the house on a rainy day may seem strange, but the sun isn't the only source of skin damage. Read on to explore how light bulbs and computer screens affect your skin and how to protect it from blue light with sunscreen.
How Is Blue Light Different from Sunlight?
Light is composed of electromagnetic particles that move in waves, and they vary in intensity and length. Shorter wavelengths mean higher energy. The human eye can only detect a small range of this spectrum, called visible light. Blue light, also known as high-energy visible (HEV) light, generally refers to the area of the light spectrum between 400 and 500 nanometers. This type of light is the closest to UV light, which falls between 200 and 400 nanometers.
Computer screens, smartphones, TVs, video game consoles, LED light bulbs, and even fluorescent signs all expose you to blue light. You can also find blue light outdoors. In fact, sunlight is the main source of blue light. This high-energy light scatters in Earth's atmosphere, giving you those beautiful blue skies. But how harmful is blue light in concentrated doses?
How Does Blue Light Affect Your Skin?
You may have heard that screen time before bed is a no-no, and blue light is the culprit. Blue light disrupts your circadian rhythm—your internal clock—by suppressing your body's ability to produce melatonin, which gives you that cozy, drowsy feeling. This can decrease how long and how well you sleep. In more recent years, however, researchers have narrowed in on blue light's effect on skin health.
Blue light penetrates your skin more deeply than UVA and UVB rays, reaching the skin cells in the layers beneath your skin's surface. Over time, this breaks down your skin's structure, which can lead to signs of premature aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and laxity. Long exposure to blue light also causes free radical damage. This leads to inflammation in the skin and affects your collagen and elastin levels. What's more, blue light activates the enzyme matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which break down existing collagen and make it harder to synthesize more.
Cumulative blue light exposure can also lead to discoloration, like redness and hyperpigmentation, particularly in people with darker skin. By damaging your skin's DNA, blue light overstimulates your melanocytes and causes them to produce more melanin, the pigment that gives your skin, eyes, and hair their color. This results in patches or spots of skin that are darker than the rest of your natural skin tone. Blue light can also make existing pigmentation, such as melasma, worse.
Should You Wear Sunscreen When Using the Computer?
Since the pandemic, adults spend approximately 28.5 hours per week in front of screens. One study review estimated that adults' average screen time increased up to 60 to 80 percent after the pandemic hit. And this doesn't include exposure to other artificial light sources, like LED lights.
No, you don't need to power down your devices and light all the candles you own to avoid blue light damage. You can protect your skin from blue light with sunscreen.
Mineral broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin against visible light—including blue light from screens. While chemical sunscreen protects your skin from sun damage and reduces your risk of skin cancer, it doesn't provide adequate blue light protection. So, stick with a mineral or hybrid sunscreen formula that contains physical blockers like Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide.
Building Your Defense with Tinted Sunscreen
For even more protection, consider tinted sunscreen. These formulas have pigments called Iron Oxides, which act as UV filters to reflect visible light—especially when combined with Zinc Oxide. They also provide a subtle tint that offers lightweight, natural coverage. EltaMD UV AOX Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 is an antioxidant-rich facial SPF made for skin, not just the sun that works to protect your skin by blocking or reflecting UVA, UVB, HEV, and multi-environmental aggressors while helping increase hydration and retain moisture.
EltaMD UV Restore Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is another great option for blue light protection. Perfect for mature, sun-damaged, or hyperpigmented skin, this 100 percent mineral tinted sunscreen boasts Ginger Root Extract, Squalane, and antioxidants for a brighter, more supple complexion that stops blue light damage in its tracks.
Protecting Your Skin from the Full Spectrum of Light
Learning that your before-bed scrolling can lead to hyperpigmentation and premature aging isn't the best news, but don't worry. You can take steps to protect yourself from blue light by caring for your skin and minimizing screen time when possible. Plus, there's some good news: researchers haven't discovered a link between artificial blue light exposure and skin cancer thus far. Interestingly, Derms sometimes even use blue light in short bursts to treat certain inflammatory conditions, such as acne.
Using a broad-spectrum mineral or hybrid sunscreen daily is the best way to protect your skin from blue light, so start building the habit now. This way, no matter where you find yourself—out in the sun, in front of screens, or under bright lights—you know you're giving your skin the line of defense it deserves.