We’ve all been hearing for a while now about the potential side effects of spending too much time in front of our computers and smartphone screens. The word is that the blue light is playing havoc with our sleep cycles and can cause some serious eye strain. Now, it appears that we have one more thing to add to list of consequences of our technology addiction – premature aging.
The Science of Blue Light
You might remember from science class that there is an entire electromagnetic spectrum of light that is defined by the wavelengths of energy produced by a light source. The spectrum includes light that is both visible and invisible to the human eye. The infamous ultra violet rays the sun emits are found nestled between x-rays and visible light on the spectrum. The blue light put off by electronics is part of the transition between UV light and visible light along the spectrum.
Science has had plenty of time to prove why we need to protect ourselves from ultraviolet rays, but what about the other sources of light that we frequently come in contact with, such as the blue light that’s emitted from our electronic devices?
Considering that the average person spends more than two hours a day with their smartphone in their hands, it’s becoming increasingly important to really understand what is going on at a cellular level while we’re spending so much time going face to face with the soft glare of blue light.
The typical person is exposed to a great deal of blue light. Consider how many professions require time spent in front of a screen and then add that to hours spent indulging in personal technology use. Add to it that blue light is also found in natural sunlight and suddenly we’ve become bombarded with it.
The reason that we’re concerned about blue light is that at it’s extreme end, it borders and slightly crosses over into the UV light zone. We know that UV rays cause premature aging along with oxidative stress, and it looks like exposure to blue light might come with some of the same consequences.
How Blue Light Damages the Skin
While there is still a great deal of research that needs to happen regarding the long term effects of prolonged exposure to blue light, what we do know is that there is some evidence that suggests the exposure we’re currently getting is weakening our skin.
Much like UV rays, blue light can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause oxidative stress on a cellular level. Oxidative stress is just another way of saying free radicals, and we’ve all heard enough about them to know this isn’t a good thing.
Prolonged exposure to blue light on a regular basis is suspected to cause hyperpigmentation, inflammation and skin weakening due to the breakdown of collagen and elastin. We can wrap all of this up in one not so pretty package called photo-aging.
While we should all be aware of the effects of blue light exposure, millennials in particular seem to be at the greatest risk. Individuals in this generational age bracket are shown to check their phones more frequently and indulge in more screen time than gen-Xers and baby boomers. As the oldest millennials are hitting 40, premature aging from blue light exposure is becoming a bigger concern.
What Can Be Done to Prevent “Screenface”?
One of the most serious concerns about blue light exposure is that the damage creeps up slowly, meaning that we are often unaware and unprepared until it is too late. There aren’t really any visible warning signs like the redness that comes with a sunburn from too much UV exposure.
Instead, you might wake up one day and feel like you look a little more tired that unusual. There might be a new, persistent breakout or an unusual dry patch of skin. Those fine lines gradually become more noticeable as your skin loses its normal glow. In the end, we chalk it all up to stress and fatigue and give little thought to how the time we spend in front of our screens could be contributing to the issue.
Protecting your skin from the effects of blue light doesn’t mean giving up your devices altogether. Sure, it’s not a bad idea to put them down and take a break every once in a while. But, we also know that we’ve come to a point where we’ve become dependent on technology for our jobs and daily activities. Therefore, we must adapt.
The best approach to protecting your skin from blue light is a proactive one that includes modifying your devices, protecting your skin on the outside and nourishing it with antioxidant rich foods on the inside.
Step one is all about stopping the damage where it starts. Blue light screen filters are available for every type and size of device. You place them over your screen and they filter out a good portion of the damaging rays to reduce the impact on your skin. A screen filter is also a good idea for protecting your eyes, which have been shown to also suffer the consequences of too much screen time. Light filtering glasses are an option, but one that’s not first on the list for most people. After all, it’s inconvenient to reach for special “sunglasses” every time you want to check your notifications.
In the meantime, turning down the brightness on your devices can help reduce the amount of blue light that reaches your skin and protect your eyes from fatigue and strain.
Skin Care Remedies for Blue Light Exposure
The right approach to skin care can lessen the effect of blue light on your skin and help to repair damage that may have already occurred. What’s the secret to proactive skincare? One word – antioxidants.
As we mentioned earlier, the damage to your skin caused by blue light exposure is due to cellular changes at the hands of free radicals. Free radicals are basically renegade molecules that go around causing damage to healthy molecules and eventually changing the function of the cells. The best way to fight free radicals is by neutralizing them with antioxidants.
Antioxidants have become very popular ingredients in skin care. They don’t perform magic by any means, but they are one of the number one defenses against premature aging because they can protect your skin cells from the damage caused by toxins and environmental stress. You’ll probably recognize a few of these powerful antioxidant skin care ingredients.
- Pomegranate extract
- Green tea
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Coenzyme Q10
Choosing high quality skin care products infused with antioxidants and other natural ingredients is one of the best ways to protect your skin from unavoidable blue light. For the highest level of protection, apply a light serum or moisturizer that contains antioxidant ingredients in the morning after gently cleansing your skin. This will help to prepare and shield your skin against blue light damage.
Then, at the end of the day, help your skin’s recovery and repair processes by applying an antioxidant nighttime treatment before your go to bed. The time you spend sleeping is crucial to cell repair and rejuvenation, so antioxidants that you apply to your skin at bedtime are especially helpful in fighting the war on premature aging. However, there is one condition…
Turn off the technology!
The last thing you want to do is send your skin to bed with a healthy dose of blue light to interfere with the natural repair processes. Plus, using technological devices – including your smartphone, right before bedtime has been shown to unbalance your body clock and disrupt normal melatonin production. Even if you fall asleep easily, the residual effects can affect the quality of the sleep you’re getting, and lack of quality sleep isn’t just bad for your skin, it can also have noticeable effects on your physical and mental health.
The solution? Make a promise to yourself to keep technology out of the bedroom and turn it off at least an hour before you go to bed. It will still be there in the morning, but you owe it to your body to allow it the time to recover from the day. Instead of scrolling through your phone one last time, try adopting a bedtime ritual that relaxes you and encourages healthy sleep habits.
Should You Use Sunscreen?
Well, yes, but not just because of your exposure to blue light. Most of us know that it’s important to protect our skin from UV rays, whether we’re heading to the beach or sitting in front of a sunny window all day. UV rays can penetrate glass, clothing and shade so it’s important to always have the extra layer of protection that sunscreen provides. This is why in recent years so many cosmetic manufacturers have made the move to include SPF right into their product formulations.
While you won’t find a sunscreen specifically for blue light, a broad spectrum, high SPF product can definitely help to shield your skin from exposure. If you know you’ll spending a significant amount of time in front of a screen, at work for example, take the time to apply a lightweight SPF to your face, neck and hands.
Finally, take the time to nourish your body properly. A diet that is high in antioxidant-rich foods and filled with lots of fresh produce will help fight the oxidative stress produced by blue light. But, put down the phone or shut the laptop before you eat.
Instead, take a little time away from technology, savor your meals and work on adopting some “slow” time into your day. Spend some tech-free time with family and friends, or just enjoy the quiet and the absence of distractions for a few minutes. Unplug, unwind and be present in the moment.
Perhaps that right there is the key to preventing premature aging. Blue light can contribute to early aging but taking a little break from technology can improve your life in other ways. A little inner radiance goes a long way in preserving your outward glow.