Screen-Time And Our Skin: Is It Causing Us Damage?
Increased screen time has become something of a necessity (or a necessary evil) throughout the pandemic and only now are we shining light on the potential damage it can cause to our skin.
It is estimated that UK adults spent an average of six hours and 25 minutes on their phones, TVs and laptops each day throughout lockdown, resulting in 45 hours of screen time each week (Ofcom, 2020). With experts having warned of the harmful effects of prolonged screen time for many years, many of us are already accustomed with the problematic effects of excessive screen time. Eye strain, headache, sleep issues, and even problem behaviour are all commonly referenced in relation to too much screen time however the problematic implications to our skin have somewhat slipped through the net.
For those of us serious about preventing premature ageing, protection from UVA and UVB rays is no longer enough. Blue light, otherwise known as High Energy Visible light (HEV) is a high-energy, short wavelength light on the visible light spectrum. Despite the majority of our blue light exposure stemming from sunlight, HEV is also emitted from our computer screens, mobile phones, and other digital devices.
To put the issue with blue light into perspective, it is now believed that spending four eight-hour workdays in front of a computer exposes you to the same amount of energy as 20 minutes in the mid-day sun. With seven minutes of sun exposure at 1pm deemed powerful enough to induce immediate tanning, the problematic effects of blue light exposure speak for themselves.
So How Does Blue Light Cause Damage?
One way blue light poses potential skin harm is via free radical generation. While UV light damages cells DNA directly, blue light has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin than both UVA and UVB rays, reaching the skins dermis-home of our collagen and elastin. A chemical in our skin known as flavin then absorbs this blue light, the result being a production of unstable oxygen molecules (free radicals).
These reactive oxygen species are seriously bad news for our skin, triggering the likes of inflammation, collagen and elastin breakdown as well as hyperpigmentation.
Night exposure to blue light is also believed to be particularly problematic, with blue light often throwing skin’s natural ‘rhythm’ out-of-sync’. This then causes our skin cells to continue to think it is daytime and subsequently impacts the skins natural night-time repair process. This can in turn lead to further visible signs of ageing, and even dark under-eye circles.
But Is All Blue Light Exposure Problematic For Our Skin?
It seems there’s a balance to be struck with our blue light exposure, with experts claiming that some levels of blue light can actually benefit to our skin. In small bursts, blue light is also thought to be an effective therapy for certain skin disorders such as acne, and is often recommended by dermatologists/skin care pros.
With many ‘at home’ light therapy masks now accessible to the consumer, the beauty scene is becoming illuminated by the ‘light therapy’ trend. With the pandemic preventing many consumers from receiving their regular salon treatments, increasing numbers of consumers are now turning to such products as a means of obtaining that beauty fix within the comfort of their own home.
How Do We Ensure We’re Not Overexposing Our Skin To Blue Light?
Ideally, we would adopt both an indoor and outdoor approach given that both sunlight and our digital devices emit blue light. The simplest indoor intervention is to limit the amount of blue light emitted from your devices. For those amongst us with Apple devices, be sure to enable ‘night shift’, this feature creates a warmer screen tone and thus reduces levels of blue light emitted by your phone/tablet’s display, a win-win anti-ageing and eye saving method.
In the FMCG world, topical antioxidants are also believed to work wonders here; although the skin naturally contains antioxidants such as vitamin E, these are often used up when the skin is exposed to an excess of free radicals. Applying topical antioxidants in the form of skincare, as well as eating a diet rich in antioxidants (think fresh fruit and veg) can boost our skin’s defence.
Those already in the habit of wearing sunscreen, are on the right track, with many of the SPF products that we’ve come to know working double-duty to protect against blue light as well as UV rays. Ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do some of (but not all) the necessary blocking, while antioxidants like vitamin C and variations of green tea keep free radicals from wreaking havoc. For those seeking gold standard in blue light protection, it’s a sunscreen with iron oxide you’re after, with iron oxides having been shown to be more protective against visible light than zinc oxide and titanium dioxide alone.