Sun protection is always a big conversation but it usually relates to protection when you are outside. In fact, many of my patients are shocked to learn that we also get UV exposure through the windows in our homes and cars. As of late, we are all glued to our screens more than usual and so the question of whether we are experiencing damage from blue light has also entered the conversation.
Photo damage occurs from both UVA (long rays) and UVB (short rays). Windows typically filter out the longer UVB rays but importantly, not UVA. UVA is responsible for degradation of collagen (think volume loss, skin breakdown) and notably, UVA rays can also lead to skin cancer. That’s the scoop on windows but what about our computer screens and other devices? As we all know our screens emit blue light which is not in either the UVA or UVB spectrum. It has a very short wavelength and thus high energy. We know that blue light can negatively impact our circadian rhythm by interfering with normal secretion of melatonin however there are a dearth of studies on this as it relates it to risks to the skin.
A small study published in J Biomed Phys Eng. suggests blue light can help generate free radicals, unstable molecules which kill collagen and damage skin. This study concludes that “current data show that exposure to blue light can lead to different levels of damage in human eyes and skin.”
(J Biomed Phys Eng. 2018 Dec; 8(4): 447–452. Published online 2018 Dec 1. PMCID: PMC6280109 PMID: 30568934
Can Light Emitted from Smartphone Screens and Taking Selfies Cause Premature Aging and Wrinkles?
Authors: N. Arjmandi,1 Gh. Mortazavi,1 S. Zarei,2 M. Faraz,3 and S.A.R. Mortazavi3*
Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer)
Another study showed that blue light could contribute to the same type of damage as UVA (discoloration and wrinkles/atrophy).
(Free Radic Biol Med. 2017 Jul;108:300-310. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2017.03.010. Epub 2017 Mar 15.
Blue light-induced oxidative stress in live skin
Authors: Nakashima Y1, Ohta S1, Wolf AM2.)
In summary, more research is needed to understand the impact of blue light on skin. Given what we know regarding the impact on eyes and sleep, it makes sense to protect ourselves from these rays as best we can. What can we do? For eye protection I now religiously wear glasses that contain a blue light blocker. If you don’t wear glasses ordinarily you can even get frames that only have the blue light blocker with no magnification. These are my faves.
Alternatively you can use a screen protector to block your whole iPad/computer/phone.
When it comes to blocking UVA rays from windows you want to be using a broad spectrum sunscreen. As long as it is broad spectrum it will block those UVA rays too. Always look for SPF of 30 and higher. Look at the active ingredients and try to find formulations with either Zinc or Titanium Dioxide as these are physical blockers as opposed to chemical blockers. Physical blockers are more effective and the formulas tend to have fewer chemicals in general.
Also of relevance to this conversation are the UV lamps in the nail salon. While these confer an extremely low risk of skin cancer, they are also in the UVA spectrum and so emit photo-damaging rays that can contribute to dark spots, wrinkles and volume loss on our hands. Offering your clients a fingertip-less UV blocking glove is a great option. Alternatively a broad spectrum sunscreen should be applied 15 min prior to exposure.
How often to apply sunscreen? Dermatologists generally recommend reapplying sunscreen every two hours however if you are not sitting in window light, heavily sweating and use a high quality sunscreen, you can likely get away with much less. For those who don’t want to mess up makeup (myself included) consider dusting a mineral powder sunscreen throughout the day. Remember to apply sunscreen to hands and neck! And lastly, always apply 15 min before exposure.
Dermatologists treat skin, hair, and nails. I am a board-certified dermatologist and I specialize in the treatment of nail disorders including nail infections, inflammatory diseases of the nail, cosmetic issues related to the nail, cancers of the nail, and sports-related nail injuries.
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