Watt’s up with blue light?

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When the pandemic first hit in 2020 and we were all ushered indoors as part of the required lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, what, we asked ourselves, were we to do with all that time indoors?

We started baking sourdough, completing puzzles (a lesson I learnt was that you may be more successful starting with a 500-piece puzzle rather than going straight for a 1000-piece option) and spent an increasing number of hours scrolling through social media (those TikTok dances surely can’t be that hard to master) and streaming services such as Netflix. And let’s not forget, we’ve also been using tech communication tools, with platforms such as Zoom, to virtually visit friends and family.

All this extra time being spent in front of a screen got me thinking: what effect is it having on our skin?

According to Dermatologist and Occupational Physician Associate Professor Rosemary Nixon and Research Fellow Dr Kaja Patel from the Skin Health Institute in Melbourne, blue light is a colour in the visible light spectrum, ranging from 400 to 490nm (nanometres), with the shortest wavelength and highest energy, which is why it’s also known as high energy visible light (HEVL).

“The majority of skin damage by HEVL is caused by exposure to blue light,” they said, although they point out that the main source of HEVL is “by far, sunlight”.

“But we’re also exposed via digital screens, in decreasing order: TVs, desktop computers, laptops, tablets and phones, LED and fluorescent lighting,” they continued.

“It should be noted that blue light is also used in the treatment of conditions such as acne, psoriasis and wound healing. However, it would appear that what is lacking in the literature is an understanding of the actual doses, and that, at the end of the day, the doses from screens are far less than that in sunlight.”

How does blue light affect the skin?

While some research does suggest the negative impact of blue light on the health and condition of our skin, Queensland-based Dermal Therapist Summer Zammit says this is a “grey area, as more studies are being done”.

She reiterates the sentiments from Associate Professor Nixon and Dr Patel that blue light also comes from the sun, so, while we’re increasingly on our devices, “the main source of blue light exposure is from the sun”, which “we already know speeds up the ageing, hyperpigmentation stages and photodamage stages of our skin when not being protected correctly”.

Associate Professor Nixon and Dr Patel say blue light exposure “generates reactive oxygen species in the skin due to degradation of carotenoids (antioxidants)”[1] and this, they add, “causes oxidative stress activating inflammation, apoptosis (cell death)[2], which has been linked to skin ageing”.

“Furthermore, exposure to blue light enhances the degradation of collagen and elastin, via the introduction of matrix metalloproteinases in skin cells, which not only degrade the present collagen but prevent new collagen formation or repair,” they said.[3]

“A study found that blue light can impact on the skin’s circadian rhythm, which can impact the reparative/regenerative cellular functions, which occur when it’s dark.[4]

“Signs of this process include hyperpigmentation or darkening of the skin. However, this has been reported to take up to 20 months of exposure to indoor lighting sources.[5]

“Interestingly, a recent study showed the use of a computer screen for eight hours per day did not worsen melasma, which is a condition of increased skin pigmentation.”[6]

How to protect the skin from blue light

According to Ms Zammit, the best way to protect our skin is simply to use SPF regularly, even if we’re spending more time indoors.

“Something that I’ve also noticed during this time and in lockdowns, and with people spending more time on the computer, is that people feel that they don’t need the SPF while at home,” she said.

“Basically, if we have windows in our house, we’re definitely exposed, and even walking in a shady area to the shop next door, we’re still exposed by reflections and the heat, therefore leaving our skin exposed.

“As for skincare, there are multiple ranges on the market that will help protect our skin, but it really does come down to the ingredients and getting the right education on them.

“The main ingredient that we want is zinc oxide, as it’s a calming ingredient and helps protect from all types of UV damage. Even titanium dioxide in sunscreens works to block the absorption of the sun’s ultraviolet light. Then there are the antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin D to keep away the free radical damage.”

For more and to read the full feature as it appears in the October issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants e-magazine, visit: rpassistants.com.au/magazines/retail-pharmacy-assistants-october-2021/ 

References: 

  1. Coats JG, Maktabi B, Abou-Dahech MS, Baki G. ‘Blue light protection, part 1: Effects of blue light on the skin’. J Cosmet Dermatol, 2021; 20 (3): 714-717.
  2. Wortzman M, Nelson DB. ‘A comprehensive topical antioxidant inhibits oxidative stress induced by blue light exposure and cigarette smoke in human skin tissue’. J Cosmet Dermatol, 2021; 20 (4): 1160-1165.
  3. Caley MP, Martins VL, O’Toole EA. ‘Metalloproteinases and wound healing’. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle), 2015; 4 (4): 225-234.
  4. Dong K, Goyarts EC, Pelle E, Trivero J, Pernodet N. ‘Blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm and creates damage in skin cells’. Int J Cosmet Sci, 2019; 41 (6): 558-562.
  5. Christensen T, Johnsen BJ, Bruzell EM. ‘Violet-blue light exposure of the skin: Is there need for protection?’ Photochem Photobiol Sci, 2021; 20 (5): 615-625.
  6. Duteil L, Queille-Roussel C, Lacour JP, Montaudie H, Passeron T. ‘Short-term exposure to blue light emitted by electronic devices does not worsen melasma’. J Am Acad Dermatol, 2020; 83 (3): 913-914.