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Exposing Effects of Blue Light On Skin

Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on October 05, 2020

The next time you snap a selfie, zoom in for a closer look. 

Your smartphone -- along with tablets, laptops, and TV screens -- gives off blue light, and the exposure could be changing your skin. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Blue Light?

It’s one of several colors in the visible light spectrum. The others are:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Indigo
  • Violet

You may know them by the acronym ROY G BIV. Together, they make the white light you see when the sun -- the main source of blue light -- is shining. Fluorescent and LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs also give off blue light. And just like ultraviolet, or UV, rays, which are linked to skin damage, it can affect your skin.

Blue Light and Your Skin

Research shows blue light from electronic devices can lead to changes in your skin cells, including cell shrinkage and death. These speed up the aging process. Even exposures as short as 60 minutes can trigger these changes.

Continued

Too much blue light could also lead to pigmentation. One study linked blue light exposure to more swelling, redness, and pigment changes in people with darker skin.

Although it can negatively impact your skin when used in certain ways, blue light also has healing properties. In one study, a blue light device was used to treat a patch of psoriasis in people with mild to moderate plaque psoriasis. This was done for 4 weeks and helped ease redness and shrink the patch’s size. There were no serious side effects.

It’s also been used to treat mild to moderate acne. A study found blue light lowered the number of blackheads, whiteheads, and other acne after 7 days of treatment.

Actinic keratosis is scaly bumps that show up on the face, ears, lips, hands, and other areas of skin exposed to the sun. They sometimes grow into skin cancer. Blue light helps lower the number of these precancerous patches, treating large areas of skin with few side effects.

Blue light is also part of photodynamic therapy. It’s a treatment that uses certain kinds of light to activate a class of drugs -- called photosensitizing agents -- to kill cancer cells. It can be as effective as surgery and radiation in treating certain kinds of cancers. Photodynamic therapy also has fewer side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Prevent Blindness: “Your Sight.”

American Cancer Society: “Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation.”

Journal of Biomedical Physics and Engineering: “Can Light Emitted from Smartphone Screens and Taking Selfies Cause Premature Aging and Wrinkles?”

Journal of Investigative Dermatology: “Impact of Long-Wavelength UVA and Visible Light on Melanocompetent Skin.”

Indian Dermatology Online Journal: “Vitamin C in Dermatology.”

Dermatological Surgery: “Protection afforded by sunscreens containing inorganic sunscreening agents against blue light sensitivity induced by aminolevulinic acid.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Can a Wearable Blue Light Device Clear Psoriasis?”

The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Clinical Efficacy of Self-applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne.”

University of Iowa: “Blue Light Therapy Warding Off Skin Cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “Getting Photodynamic Therapy.”

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