We all probably get more screen time than we need, but could that extended scrolling time be damaging our skin? Studies on the effects of blue light have revealed adverse effects on everything from eye health to sleep habits—and yes, skin health is on that list. But how concerned do we need to be about the idea of screen-time aging?
We dig in deep to understand the impact of screen time on our skin and what steps we should really be taking to mitigate it.
What Is Blue Light?
Also called high energy visible (HEV) light, blue light is a part of the light spectrum the human eye can see. As a part of white light, HEV light comes from a ton of places, including the sun, our screens and many light sources, and it comes with daytime benefits like alertness and boosting mood.
“Blue light is what makes the sky blue on a sunny day and what gives your smartphone screen its bright and clear background,” says Ohio State University Medical Center dermatologist, Susan Massick, MD.
“Blue light is the shortest wavelength of the visible light spectrum,” adds New Orleans, LA dermatologist, Mary Lupo, MD. “It is closest to ultraviolet light which causes accelerated aging of the skin.”
A significant increase in screen time over the last twenty years or so has experts wary of the extra blue light we’re getting, particularly at night. According to Rahul Khurana, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, we blink less when we look at screens, which causes increased eye strain.
Additionally, we know that having access to screen time once the sun is down isn’t great for our sleeping habits. That increased alertness has a downside, it would seem. For this reason, many experts advise taking time away from the screen before bedtime.
Blue Light and Skin
When it comes to the effect blue light has on our skin, we know it isn’t great.
According to New York dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD the problem isn’t necessarily the screen itself but the cumulative effect of blue light itself. “Blue light can contribute to skin aging and hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Henry explains. “All these things are cumulative. They’re kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back, and may be enough to tip you over into whatever skin issue you’re experiencing.”
But because we get a lot of blue light straight from the sun, it’s not just screens that are the issue. “We get most of our blue light from sun exposure,” Dr. Henry says. “We get far more from sunlight than from our devices, but the cumulative dosage has increased due to screens.”
Still, it’s not that screens don’t have an impact.
New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD explains that recent studies have indicated there is some effect on our skin from screens. “We’ve seen a pretty good study released around the time COVID began that looked at blue light from screens and increases in melasma and hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Markowitz explains. “And we saw that sunscreens with ingredients like iron oxide prevented some of that.”
So screen time aging is a real thing, but exactly how concerned do we need to be?
Protecting Your Skin
Well, it’s kind of hard to say. “What we don’t know is to what degree blue light can impact the proliferation of cells, or malignancy,” Dr. Markowitz says. “That photo-aging may not be a DNA issue, it may be a pigment issue. But we don’t know yet. We’ve proven that UV light affects DNA, leading to a proliferation of cancer, but we haven’t yet proven that with blue light.”
All things considered, you probably don’t need to put on sunscreen before looking at your phone to avoid screen-time aging.
“There’s a case to be made that it’s a good idea if you’re really sitting in an office in front of a screen for eight hours a day, and you really want to optimize your regimen,” Dr. Henry says. “But, do you need to put on sunscreen to scroll through your phone before bedtime? No, probably not.”
If you are concerned with your blue light exposure, it’s fairly easy to incorporate ingredients into your regular routine that can mitigate against that damage.
“It’s a good idea to put on a moisturizer before bed, so I just use one with an oxide component when I’m going to be in front of a screen,” Dr. Markowitz explains. “But we should also consider changing our lifestyle, since we know it’s not great for our eyes or our sleep habits.”