Beauty

Can blue light–blocking makeup keep your skin safe from too much screen time?

A dermatologist speaks to the trend

A photo of a woman on her laptop at a coffee shop. Credit: MStudioImages

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You don’t have to know what blue light is to know that it’s a big topic of conversation right now. Whether it’s for the eyes or the skin, products that claim to block blue light are popping up everywhere, and have become trendy, thanks to Instagram influencers.

Despite product manufacturers’ urge to block it, blue light—which is emitted naturally from the sun or artificially from the screens of electronics—is something of a mystery in terms of its effects on our bodies. What’s certain is that blue light suppresses melatonin secretion, the hormone responsible for regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, which means that blue light signals to the body that it’s time to be awake. So while blue light-blocking glasses are likely not all they’re marketed to be when it comes to preventing or reducing digital eye strain, they could be helpful in keeping our sleep regulated if worn while staring at screens. (Still, the best way to prevent the overexposure of blue light is to put electronics away an hour before bed.)

But talk of blue light-blocking skincare and makeup begs a different question: In what ways might this wavelength of light affect the skin? Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York City, shed light (no pun intended) on some of the claims to help you understand whether your skin needs protecting and you should consider using these products for that purpose.

Claim: Blue light is damaging to the skin

Phone
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Blue light exposure comes from the sun and electronics.

Brands like Milani, Physician’s Formula, and Honest Beauty (just to name a few) boast blue light-blocking makeup products with the claim that these will prevent any further “damage” to your skin. This isn’t untrue; in a December 2018 study aiming to determine whether smartphone screens cause premature aging and wrinkles, the NCBI stated, “Current data show that exposure to blue light can lead to different levels of damage in human eyes and skin.” It’s thought that exposure may accelerate the cellular aging process, leading to wrinkles or unwanted pigmentation. But the study does not provide a definitive answer on how much exposure is too much or what preventative measures are necessary.

Fact: Blue light can actually help the skin

Laser Treatment
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Blue light can be used as a treatment for skin ailments.

What is known for sure about blue light is that it can be used to treat conditions such as acne, rosacea, and psoriasis by killing bacteria and reducing inflammation. In short bursts, like by using a light therapy spot treatment, blue light is proven to be safe for the skin. Too much of anything, Cook-Bolden says, is where concerns arise. It’s similar to how there are benefits to limited exposure to UVA and UVB rays, but if you’re not wearing sunscreen and you’re exposed to it all the time, it can be dangerous, she explains.

Because skin’s blue-light exposure has increased thanks to digital devices, we may find ourselves in a similar predicament of potentially needing better protection from it. But as of now, there isn’t enough information to show to what extent and at what level blue light could have a damaging effect on the skin. “We know that it can cause increased pigmentation sometimes, so that’s one negative,” Cook-Bolden says. “But really, I haven’t seen any real scientific studies that prove anything negative about [the effect of] blue light on skin.”

Claim: Makeup and skincare products can block blue light

Shopping
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Makeup products claim to have blue-light-blocking ingredients.

Companies like the ones mentioned above introduced products that they say can effectively shield the skin from blue light. This is a valid claim: it’s possible to add ingredients that block blue light, just like it’s possible to use certain ingredients to block against sunlight or pollution.

Fact: The same ingredients that block sunlight also work against blue light

Applying Sunscreen
Credit: Getty Images / Eva Katalin

You're probably already blocking blue light without knowing it.

Plot twist! The ingredients used in mineral sunscreens to protect against UVA and UVB rays also block blue light, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. If you already wear an SPF product during the day, you’re likely protecting your skin against blue light without knowing it and don’t need an additional designated product for that purpose.

Bottom line: These products do what they claim, but aren’t necessary

There’s no harm in trying any products that are designated blue-light blockers, but you need SPF regardless and, when used correctly, that’ll have you covered against any possible ill effects of blue light discovered in the future.

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