Is Light From Your Laptop Destroying Your Skin?

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Let’s start with the good news for a change: Many things are good for your skin. Aloe, hyaluronic acid, algae extract, sweet little kisses… So that’s great. Sadly though, many other things that are pretty great otherwise are quite bad for your skin. Bagels, coffee, alcohol, snowball fights and then the big bad, the sun—great at sustaining life and at doing terrible things to our dermis, even when we stay inside. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that yet another life staple, that thing you’re reading this on right now, could also be punishing your skin. Yep, the high-energy visible (HEV) light from our phones, tablets and computers—commonly known as blue light—not only screws with our sleep cycles, threatens our eye health and, you know, rots our brains, but may actually be blasting our skin with harmful radiation not too dissimilar from what the sun is dishing out. It seems all’s fair in true love and skin damage.

The question, though, is just how harmful all that blue light we bathe ourselves in really is. Of course, skincare companies are shooting first and asking questions later, already peppering the market with creams, gels and serums that block HEV light before there’s much scientific consensus as to whether it needs any blocking. One such company, Dr. Loretta, co-founded by Miami-based dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, warns on their website that HEV light leads to “significant photo damage and skin aging.” There are a handful of recent studies, some notably commissioned by skin-in-the-game companies like Lipo Chemicals and Johnson & Johnson, that offer compelling findings about the damage blue light can do. Hyperpigmentation and DNA damage caused by the production of free radicals were among the most notable consequences of concentrated blue light exposure found in these studies, with the damage said to become increasingly powerful with prolonged doses, perhaps enough to make you think twice before binging another completely random show on Netflix.

For Dr. Ciraldo, the evidence is also anecdotal. “I am starting to see new patterns of light-induced damage in my patients. A lot of the patients who come in with a staining of their skin called melasma now have a shift in distribution of the pigment. I ask them to show me how they hold their cell phones to their faces and we most often see that the hyperpigmentation corresponds to the area where they hold their cell phones.”

Ciraldo also sells a line of $60+ skincare products that purport to neutralize the free-radicals released by HEV exposure with proprietary active ingredients named things like Chromabright® and Lipochroman®. But like many others in her field, she is quick to note that the research on the subject is still relatively inconclusive. “There has been very little study of the actual effects of computer screen blue light on the skin. It may well be, for instance, that some of the damage we are attributing to UVA is truly coming from the sun's blue light. We have a lot more investigating to do.”

Nevertheless, for those of us diligently protecting our skin from the sun with SPF, it could feel silly to find out years from now we’ve been sleeping on the blemish culprit literally under our noses the whole time. In addition to the protection provided by a broad spectrum sunscreen, look for antioxidants in your skincare products that can help reverse the oxidizing effects of blue light and maybe even consider going 24/7 with Night Shift on your phone, or use a program like f.lux to warm up your device’s blue light to something less disrespectful to your skin.

The jury may still be out on the alleged crimes of blue light, but if you’re an early adopter on the tech side of things, it might not be a bad idea to be an early adopter of protecting yourself from that tech and all the blue light it’s sending your way. Or hell, let your skin be your digital life’s last straw and unplug it all. Most of the internet is garbage anyway, and books never did anything to anyone’s skin. Just don’t expect to read this in print any time soon.

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