Over the past 2 years, skincare marketing leads one to believe blue light must be harmful because nearly every day new products claim to protect you from the dangers of blue light.
Is blue light harmful?
Below are typical marketing concepts from skin brands promoting their skincare products.
"Protect against blue light", "Protect against damaging blue light", "Blue Defense" and finally, "Clinically shown to help mitigate the effects from exposure to blue light".
If we should protect ourselves from the damaging effects of blue light, then why are we using blue LED devices?
As a Youtube and social media skincare personality; honestly, I don't even know how to refer to myself anymore; I feel overwhelmed by skincare brands and the fads and phrases they use to roll out "new" and "effective" skincare products.
Just the word "anti-aging" makes no sense.
Water can be considered anti-aging as our bodies require water to live and function. Next, you will see bottled water, labeled "anti-aging" or "miracle in a bottle".
No matter where we shop today; drugstore, high-end department store, or online at Amazon, how do we know if we need a product or if the brand simply used a new fancy word to upsell a product we already use.
Perhaps even more alarming; are brands, in an attempt to sell products creating fear around unproven concepts?
Is the fear of blue light exposure a marketing farce to
get us to buy and consume more?
WHAT IS BLUE LIGHT?
The electromagnetic spectrum measures wavelength frequencies and these frequencies vary by their length, speed, and size. Based on varying wavelengths some can cause heat, kill bacteria, transfer information, and further can be visible while others remain invisible.
Below is the electromagnetic spectrum. In the middle, between long-drawn-out wavelengths and quick rapid wavelengths, we find visible light wavelengths.
Blue light is a wavelength in the visible light spectrum that
can be seen by the human eye.
Blue light has a wavelength between 380nm and 500nm; making it one of the shortest and highest-energy wavelengths. It's of concern because blue light has more energy per photon of light than other colors in the visible spectrum.
Within the blue light range of 380-500 nanometers, the most intense blue light factor is called High Energy Visible Light (HEV) found between 400-450 nanometers. Of all the colors on the spectrum of light, the HEV wavelength can cause the most damage and is centered around 435nm.
How did we conclude that blue light from the sun,
devices and screens are harmful?
The theory of blue light harm centers around eye strain, and more importantly our sleep cycle. One study used rats, mice, and human retinal cells in a lab environment and has passed this on as proof of testing. However, there is no true scientific evidence of blue light harm to humans because no human trials have been conducted. Science Article
Most of the hype of blue light damage centers around theories rather than factual evidence.
PAUSE: Creditable theories can be helpful. The world being round was a theory based on other observable factors prior to the ability to sail around, proving it was in fact a globe. Perhaps, blue light is harmful and these theories should be enough for us to take precautions; in particular regarding our sleep cycle; no one can deny that the lack of sleep or the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep is a modern-day epidemic.
However, does our lack of sleep mean that blue light is degenerative to our retina and or health?
A Harvard University health blog says,
“Blue light from electronic devices is not going to increase the risk of macular degeneration or harm any other part of the eye. However, the use of these devices may disrupt sleep or disturb other aspects of your health or circadian rhythm. If you are one of the large numbers of people who fall into this category, talk to your doctor and take steps to limit your use of devices at night, when blue light is most likely to impact your biological clock.”
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes. Read More
Blue light is most present naturally in our life from the sun. Our world and our bodies are created to work with one another. Light wakes us up and darkness puts us to sleep. Light triggers melatonin levels and can boost or decrease our mood. This means we are more active during daylight hours and our body knows to repair during night hours when there is no light.
With the development of technology, our natural circadian rhythm that follows a 24-hour cycle can be disrupted. This started well before the iPhone. This began with the introduction of fire which allowed human beings to stay up past sunset.
Fire does not give off blue light because it's simply oxygen chemically reacting. Any form of energy release (like fire burning) produces light. However, only a few compounds like oxygen produce a light we can see. Other releases of energy, "wavelengths" are not visible to us hence, the visible light spectrum versus the much larger electromagnetic spectrum that we cannot see.
In 1925, half the homes in the US had electricity. Electricity has really extended our hours of wake time versus rest time. Incandescent bulbs do emit some blue light and new LED energy-efficient bulbs emit more. But the true concern is not about the HEV 435nm light wavelength that is damaging health, it's our human inability to control ourselves by staying up late glued to our devices.
Our bodies are never getting the natural triggers to shut down, sleep and repair. Low levels of melatonin caused by the stimulation of light at all hours can lead to poor health.
There was concern that perhaps the overexposure of blue light was causing the retina to fail sooner, causing macular degeneration a common eye condition that typically manifests in people over age 50. It damages the macula of the eye, which is located near the center of the retina and can lead to vision loss. However, this is not proven.
The Harvard blog addresses our true exposure; "...consumer electronics are not harmful to the retina because of the amount of light emitted...recent iPhones have a maximum brightness of around 625 candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Brighter still, many retail stores have an ambient illumination twice as great. However, these sources pale in comparison to the sun, which yields an ambient illumination more than 10 times greater!"
IS BLUE LIGHT SAFE?
We shouldn't be staring into the sun, so although the above illustrates that our devices pale in comparison to the light put out by the sun, no one stares at the sun all day and night the way we stare at our phones.
My takeaway from the Harvard article is that although we abuse our devices and this abuse is preventing us from getting the rest we need, our lack of sleep can be degenerative for our overall health but the degeneration is not caused by blue light but by lack of sleep.
Lack of sleep causing poor health is factual and there are many sleep studies to prove this correlation. The need to sleep in our country has built the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device) and the Pharmaceutical Ambien industries. I personally know, as my husband Jason did a sleep study and it was found that he did not sleep. Consequently, he was issued a CPAP to help with oxygen while he slept and Ambien to ensure he stayed asleep.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology says,
"You don’t need them [blue light glasses]" and has gone on record as not recommending any kind of special eyewear for computer users. The organization says, "blue light from digital devices does not lead to eye disease and doesn’t even cause eyestrain." They continue with, "the problems people complain about are simply caused by the overuse of digital devices." Further, “The symptoms of digital eye strain are linked to how we use our digital devices, not the blue light coming out of them,” the AAO says.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
As adults and children spend more time on their phones, laptops, and computers, it’s become a trending topic, especially during covid. In fact, sales for blue light glasses soared during COVID.
The Book Club eyewear company says sales for its blue light glasses through March and April 2020 rose 116% over the same time in 2019, with the surge continuing, according to The Business of Fashion.
I bought these blue light glasses, I actually love the look of them and get compliments whenever I go LIVE and I'm wearing them, however now I feel responsible for perhaps endorsing a concept that might be completely fallacious. These products and their reasonable marketing campaigns have led to a huge misconception of blue light damage which is not backed by scientific evidence.
Blue light streaming from our devices is not destroying our eye sight.
Extremely high doses of blue light can cause damage if absorbed by certain cells in our body, however, none of our devices emit anything close to that damaging dose.
How did we progress from blue light potentially being an issue for our eyes, (which is unfounded), to the skincare world
deciding blue light is harmful to our skin?
Our Sun sends us wavelengths of energy from virtually every part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The sunlight we see during the day is visible light (this is where blue light is found) and is measured on the spectrum between 400-750nm. Ultra Violet (UV) light, which is non-visible has a range of 100-400nm and is divided into 3 categories:
UVA (315-400 nm)
UVB (280-315 nm)
UVC (100-280 nm)
The short wavelength of UVC is the most damaging type of UV radiation, however, we are not concerned with this wavelength because it is completely eliminated by our Earth's atmosphere and never affects us on the surface of our planet.
We protect our skin from sun exposure due to the documented dangers of UV Light and its correlated breakdown of our skin; causing skin burns, premature aging, and cancer. By the year 2021, we are extremely aware of the real threat that overexposure to the sun has in our lives which is why we lather on sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection for a full spectrum shield.
Besides protecting ourselves from UV radiation, another environmental concern are free radicals.
I've made a few videos on this topic.
Essentially, free radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron, they need antioxidants that give up electrons to balance out and not cause disrupting chain reactions to skin cells as these "radicals" rob electrons; known as Oxidative Stress.
Vitamin C is a go-to antioxidant as well as vitamin E. These products paired with a protective zinc sunscreen protect your skin across the board from Ultra Violet Light, Visible Light "blue light", and Oxidative Stress.
BLUE LIGHT SKINCARE
Here are some new products and claims which continue to propagate the confusion.
TULA Skin Care Signature Glow Refreshing & Brightening Face Mist | Oil & Alcohol-Free, Hydrating & Brightening with Pollution & Blue Light.
Claim: PROTECTS AGAINST BLUE LIGHT & POLLUTANTS: This is the latest addition to our family of products that protects against the damaging effects of blue light & pollutants to keep your skin healthy, whether you're outdoors or in the office.
Volition Beauty Screen Time Hydrating Face Mist
Claim: Blue Light. It’s emitted from our devices. It’s affecting your skin without your knowledge. It’s not anymore with this moisturizing facial mist that deeply nourishes and helps soothe stressed skin.
COOLA Organic Mineral Sun Silk Creme Sunscreen, Full Spectrum Skin Care for Blue Light and Pollution Defense, Broad Spectrum
Claims: HEV protection (blue light)
“As if exposure to UV rays from sunlight wasn’t bad enough, skin has another enemy trying to steal away its youth and health: high-energy visible (HEV) light. Also referred to as blue light, HEV light is primarily from the sun, but it’s also emitted by your smartphone, tablet, and computer screen. By any name and from any source, a growing amount of research is proving how destructive HEV light is for your skin.”
I obviously don't want to get into a fight with Paula's Choice,
but what research is proving that HEV is another
skin enemy robbing us of our youth?
I love many products from the above-mentioned brands and I'm not attempting to throw them under the bus. I only want to bring to light that we need to be our own advocates. Skincare products, unless they have sunscreen, are not verified. Therefore, brands in the US can say whatever they want on the packaging which is causing a billion products to flood the market that essentially do the same thing. Brands don't want to lose their shelf space with retailers so they need to constantly have new revenue and traction on products, which is why products get marketed differently as solving an issue you didn't even know you had.
Blue Light protection has become a trendy "cash cow"!
The sun has blue light as do fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs. Computer and laptop screens, flat-screen televisions, cell phones, and tablets all use LED technologies with differing amounts of blue light. But not the same as the sun to cause damage to your eyes or skin cells.
NY Magazine July 2020 published an article about debunking blue light concerns coming from devices. In it, Dr. Beiersdorf explains,
Beiersdorf related, he felt it necessary to debunk many falsehoods about the perceived blue light dangers coming from electronics because it's not the same as the sun's blue light and distracts from actual concerns. Exposure to blue light on our devices versus that of the sun are completely different strengths. HEV from the sun can be damaging just like UVA and UVB.
“According to our dermatologists, though, the best way to prevent further skin damage from exposure to blue light from screens is pretty much the same as preventing skin damage in general: Just wear sunscreen. They all recommended a physical sunscreen with iron oxides — which are most often zinc oxide and titanium oxide” NY MAG
Luckily, we have fantastic sunscreens that can help protect us from the visible and non-visible rays that break down our skin and health.
The blue light that is being emitted from screens is not the danger that we are being sold. We have jumped on the bandwagon, yours truly included, relying on theories that lack evidence causing scientists to only speculate.
I'm not suggesting blue light in our devices is not causing issues, but the issues that our devices are responsible for; mainly eye strain and sleep deprivation due to the disruption of our circadian rhythm; are based on personal use and habits. If you want better sleep which equates to better health and overall rejuvenation, you are the only one who can put the device down an hour before bed. You are the only one who can take breaks from your computer, giving your eyes a rest.
It has been suggested to do the 20-20-20 rule that was designed by Californian optometrist Jeffrey Anshel. According to the Optometry Times, he reminds us to take breaks in order to prevent eye strain.
When following the rule, a person takes a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. During the break, the person focuses on an object 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles. Never once does he suggest buying blue light glasses. Lowering your light display output and using the day to night preference does more to ease your eye strain than any blue light filter.