Research has proven time and time again that sun is good for the soul, but not the skin. Dermatologists around the world continue to stress the importance of daily protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and broad-spectrum sunscreens are common for outdoor activities, but recent science suggests that we may need to be similarly cautious indoors.
The idea of wearing an SPF product while sitting in the house on a rainy day may seem a bit strange, but the sun is not the only source of skin damage. Read on to explore how light bulbs and computer screens could be the newest threat to skin health.
Sun and Screens
Here's a brief throwback to high school physics class: light is composed of electromagnetic particles moving in waves that vary in intensity and length, measured in nanometers (nm). Shorter wavelengths mean higher energy. The human eye can detect just a small range of this spectrum, called visible light. Blue light, also known as high-energy visible light, or HEV, generally refers to the area of the light spectrum between 400-450 nm, which is closest to UV light (200-400 nm).
Computer screens, smartphones, TVs, video game consoles, LED light bulbs, and even fluorescent signs all expose us to blue light. We do not escape it outdoors either. In fact, sunlight is the main source of blue light. This high-energy light emitted by the sun scatters in Earth's atmosphere, giving us our beautiful blue skies. But how dangerous is this light in indoor doses?
The Problems with Screen Time
Some reports suggest that Americans spend a significant portion of their time awake, 9 hours or more, interacting with screen-based media each day. And you may have heard that too much blue light can have adverse effects on sleep—but what does it do to the skin? Although we don't know the full answer to this question just yet, there are current findings that warrant attention.
We know that the artificial blue light that comes from screens and LEDs stimulates skin to produce more pigment through a process called melanogenesis. Melanogenesis can cause or worsen melasma, a condition characterized by patches of brown discoloration on the face, most commonly along the cheeks, forehead, and jawbones. It is more common in women and in those with naturally brown complexions.
The medical community has now added blue light to the list of melasma triggers, along with unprotected exposure to UV light, pregnancy, and the use of oral contraceptive pills.
Blue light can also generate free radical damage in the skin. Free radicals are pesky chemical particles within the body that wreak cosmetic havoc, causing discoloration, lines, and saggy skin. If that weren't enough, evidence suggests that visible light causes the expression of matrix-metalloproteinases MMP-1 and MMP-9. These are enzymes that break down our wrinkle-fighting protein called collagen.
One would think that eyes are particularly vulnerable to this type of energy. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, blue light does not lead to eye disease, but long hours in front of a screen can result in dry or watery eyes, blurry vision, and headache.
Don't Be So Blue
Without question, melasma and premature aging can be distressing, but there is some positive news. First of all, there are effective treatment options for those dealing with melasma. Second, so far, there has been no link discovered between artificial blue light exposure and the development of skin cancer.
You might also find it interesting to know that Dermatologists sometimes use blue light in short bursts (not the hours we sit in front of a screen) to treat certain inflammatory conditions, such as acne.
One way to benefit our skin health is to reduce the amount of time we expose ourselves to computers, cell phones, and video games. Much like seeking shade from strong UV rays, taking a break from screens may prove to be a benefit to our complexion. It could also help to invest in screen filters that cut down on HEV. Or, you could activate night mode on your devices so the screens give off less blue light.
Also, applying mineral-based sunscreens with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and iron oxides provides additional protection, even from overhead LED and fluorescent lighting. These mineral ingredients are effective at deflecting some of the rays away from the skin's surface. For optimal results, apply a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of 30+ every day.
SPF Saves the Day, Indoors and Out
So, as farfetched as it may seem, there is science to suggest that light from screens can cause damage and that you should use daily sunscreen, indoors and out. This way, no matter where you find yourself—out in the sun, in front of screens, or under bright lights—you know that you are protecting your skin.
Finally, always remember to direct any skin-related questions to a board-certified Dermatologist, so that you know you are getting reliable care for your individual needs. They'll be up on the latest research and will be happy to share tips to keep you glowing.