Is Blue Light Causing Skin Damage?

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Angela Casey, MD, relates her experiences addressing patients’ concerns about skin damage caused by blue light.
Patients should take a holistic approach to skin health: get plenty of sleep, manage stress, exercise, eat a healthy diet. Wear sunscreen every single day.

The significant changes in lifestyle and workstyle of the past few years have people spending more and more time in front of screens and under artificial lights. As time in these environments has increased, so has the number of patients expressing concern about the possible damage of blue light irradiance on their skin.

For an in-depth discussion about the influence of blue light on skin and how to protect oneself, we interviewed Angela S. Casey, MD, who, with colleague, Amy E. Ramser, MD, coauthored a paper on the topic. A board-certified dermatologist, Dr Casey practices at the Center for Surgical Dermatology & Dermatology Associates in Westerville, Ohio. She provided insights as to how and when she advises her patients about the effects of blue light.

What is the typical profile of the patient who is concerned about blue light and their skin?

Dr Casey: Typically, these patients are women of the millennial and Gen X generations. They are well-educated, professional individuals who are discerning their skincare regimens and live a generally healthy lifestyle. Many of them have job flexibility and they are working from home part of the time; in turn, they are in front of a computer for a significant portion of their workday. They are active consumers of information and have read or heard about blue light in media/blogs focused on health, wellness, or beauty.

How has this level of concern increased during the pandemic?

Dr Casey: We have undoubtedly seen concern about blue light rise since the pandemic. As individuals transitioned from the office to working in front of the computer at home, the awareness of blue light and its effects on the skin became top of mind. Prior to the pandemic, I very rarely had patients asking about blue light; now, it seems to come up at least once a week. Additionally, as I am a mother of 3, fellow parents ask about blue light regularly — their children are on devices for a large percentage of their waking hours, and this has parents concerned about long-term consequences of blue light exposure.

Prevention is the best medicine: the large majority of skin damage from blue light, and other factors, is preventable by employing simple, daily habits.

Do you ever bring up the subject of blue light with your patients first, and if so, under what circumstances?

Dr Casey: Yes. During most patient visits, we discuss sunscreen options. As I talk about sunscreens with patients, I remind them to seek broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. As part of this discussion, I remind them that many sunscreens do not provide comprehensive protection against blue light; sunscreens that are tinted with iron oxide pigments provide blue light protection in addition to UV protection. My preferred sunscreen for the face/neck is a tinted formulation that contains iron oxide, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients.

I counsel patients that many makeup foundations and concealers contain iron oxide pigments. And I also remind them that they shouldn’t depend on the foundation or concealer to work as their primary modality of blue light protection (or UV protection for those that are SPF rated) because most individuals are not applying the quantities of foundation needed to achieve the SPF rating noted on the package — they are typically applying much less product than the 2 mg per square centimeter needed.

Although the extent of blue light’s effect on skin is unknown, what would be your estimate?

Dr Casey: Blue light is one small factor in a much larger equation of our daily exposures and the impact on our skin. We have clear evidence that blue light can induce pigmentation, inflammation, and oxidative stress. What’s difficult to tease out is what percentage of skin damage is directly related to blue light when we have all of these other factors (UV exposure, pollution, stress, hormones, diet, movement) that are actively intertwined. I counsel patients to take a holistic approach to skin health: get plenty of sleep, manage stress, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Wear sunscreen every single day. Apply a retinol or retinoid every night to help repair skin damage sustained during the day.

Just as some patients are aware of blue-light blocking and reducing eyewear, how willing are patients to employ methods to protect their skin from blue light?

Dr Casey: In my practice, most patients are not specifically seeking blue light protection recommendations; rather, they are focused on a comprehensive approach to skin health, and blue light protection is part of the overall equation. My patient population prefers streamlined, simple skincare regimens, and most are not willing to purchase an additional product that specifically protects against blue light. However, almost all of them wear sunscreen daily, and many of use antioxidant serums that contain actives such as vitamin C and vitamin E. We know that antioxidants play an important role in reducing the skin inflammation that results from blue light exposure.

Most of my patients are very willing to transition to tinted sunscreens that contain the iron oxides and antioxidants; the specific product that I recommend contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E. By using this, patients are getting an all-in-one product that keeps their morning skincare routine simple. They don’t have to add anything to their regimen, but are swapping out their current sunscreen for a sunscreen product that provides a broader range of protection, including blue light protection.

Any interesting or unexpected findings in your study or practice, regarding blue light?

Dr Casey: Most dermatologists are aware, but it is worth repeating, that the large majority of blue light that we encounter on a daily comes from sun exposure/UV radiation, and not from artificial sources such as computers, screens, or overhead lights. The intensity (or irradiance) of blue light that is emitted from devices is 100 to 1000 times less than the intensity of blue light emitted from the sun.

In darker-skinned patients, blue light can induce pigmentation that is darker and more sustained than pigmentation caused by UVA-1.

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle on achieving clear, glowing skin cannot be overemphasized. Skincare products are one piece of the larger puzzle.

Prevention is the best medicine: the large majority of skin damage from blue light, and other factors, is preventable by employing simple, daily habits. Sunscreen should be a mandatory part of every morning skincare routine, and using a tinted sunscreen with antioxidants is a simple way to arm your skin with the protection that it needs as you face the day.

This article originally appeared on Dermatology Advisor

References:

Ramser AE, Casey AS. Blue light and skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2022 Sep 1;21(9):962-966. doi:10.36849/JDD.6374