Jan. 15, 2021 -- The COVID-19 pandemic has been good for the blue light glasses industry.
As people in lockdown spend more time staring at laptops and other digital screens, they’re ordering more blue light glasses, despite a lack of conclusive evidence the glasses actually reduce eyestrain or protect from the effects of blue light.
The optical company Zenni says sales for the blue-light-blocking product Blokz have risen 60% annually for the last 2 years, with nearly 2 million pairs sold in 2020 alone.
The glasses were already popular with office workers and gamers, “but most certainly the pandemic has had a pronounced effect [on sales] with nearly everyone absorbing more and more digital blue light than ever before,” says Sean Pate, a brand marketing and communications officer for Zenni.
The Book Club eyewear company says sales for its blue light glasses through March and April 2020 rose 116% over the same time in 2019, with the surge continuing, according to The Business of Fashion.
“You never predict a moment like [a global pandemic] is the moment that a brand blossoms and all of a sudden starts to sell out and gain attention,” says creative director Hamish Tame.
360ResearchReports, a market research company, says the global market for blue light eyewear will increase to $28 million by 2024, up from $19 million in 2020. Th
e advertised benefits of the glasses include less eyestrain, improved sleep, and prevention of eye disease.
But do they really work? It depends on who you ask.
Because the glasses are a newer product, there’s not a lot of research to show either way.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology says you don’t need them and has gone on record as not recommending any kind of special eyewear for computer users. The organization says blue light from digital devices does not lead to eye disease and doesn’t even cause eyestrain. The problems people complain about are simply caused by overuse of digital devices, it says.
“The symptoms of digital eye strain are linked to how we use our digital devices, not the blue light coming out of them,” the AAO says.
In the United Kingdom, the College of Optometrists says, “The best scientific evidence currently available does not support the use of blue-blocking spectacle lenses in the general population to improve visual performance, alleviate the symptoms of eye fatigue or visual discomfort, improve sleep quality or conserve macula health.”
But some eye professionals believe they have benefits.
Greg Rogers, senior optician at Eyeworks in Decatur, GA, says he’s seen the benefits of blue light glasses among the shop’s customers. The staff asks a client how much time they spend in front of a screen daily. If it’s 6 hours or more, some sort of blue light reduction technique is recommended, whether it’s glasses or a special screen for a computer monitor.
The Vision Council, which represents the optical industry, says it doesn’t promote individual brands or products, and it “encourages everyone to do their own research, speak with an eye care provider, and determine the right solution for them and their family.”
Blue Light is Everywhere
We were getting plenty of blue light before modern digital life began. Most of it comes from the sun. But gadgets like televisions, smartphones, laptops, and tablets that populate modern life emit the brighter, shorter-wavelength (more bluish) light.
And because of the pandemic, we’re staring at those devices even more, according to Vision Direct, which surveyed 2,000 adults in the United States and another 2,000 in the United Kingdom.
The study, published in June 2020, found those adults averaged 4 hours and 54 minutes on a laptop before the lockdown and 5 hours and 10 minutes after. They spent 4 hours and 33 minutes on the smartphone before the lockdown, and 5 hours and 2 minutes after. Screen time went up for television watching and gaming, too.
Susan Primo, OD, an optometrist and professor of ophthalmology at Emory University, agrees that the research so far shows digital overuse, not blue light, causes eye problems. But some patients who wear blue light glasses do report less eyestrain, she says.
“If you want to wear them and find some benefits, that’s fine,” she says.
Primo says she’s bothered by some of the marketing and advertising of blue light eyewear because it doesn’t line up with the research.
“They can word it in such a way that makes it appear to be beneficial. They can say this might be possible. They can use words like ‘may’ and ‘might,’” she says. “Marketing can take things to a level that might not be a sound recommendation, sound science, for people to go out and get them.”
An example: A chain of stores in the United Kingdom, Boots Ltd., was fined 40,000 pounds in 2017 for misleading advertising that said digital blue light caused retinal damage, and special eyewear sold at Boots Ltd. could protect users, Optometry Today reported.
Trying to Get Some Sleep
Another argument in favor of blue light glasses is that they help you sleep better at night. Researchers agree that blue light from LED devices like your smartphone or laptop holds back the body’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin.
A 2017 study done by the University of Houston found that participants wearing the glasses showed about a 58% increase in their nighttime melatonin levels. “By using blue blocking glasses we … can improve sleep and still continue to use our devices. That’s nice, because we can still be productive at night,” said Lisa Ostrin, PhD, a professor at the university’s College of Optometry, according to a university news release.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology takes a different approach. “You don’t need to spend extra money on blue light glasses to improve sleep -- simply decrease evening screen time and set devices to night mode,” the group says.
‘I Believe I Can Work Longer’
Many consumers say the blue light glasses help.
Cindy Tolbert of Atlanta, a mystery novelist and retired lawyer, had a variety of vision problems and spent an extra $140 at the eye doctor for blue light lenses.
“It’s not terribly apparent that the glasses help when you’re wearing them, but I believe I can work longer, and I know I can work more comfortably,” she says. “Usually my eyes poop out after 4 or 5 hours of computer work, but I can work longer with the glasses.”
Michael Clarke of San Diego says he doesn’t care what the experts say about blue light glasses. They work for him.
“I use them so often that I have a pair of blue light glasses around my neck all day,” he said in 2019. “I’m not an optometrist. I just know that my eyes don’t get as tired at the end of the day. My frequency of headaches has gone down. I’m able to focus on things easier on a screen.”
Back in 2019, Erin Sattler of Bellevue, WA, was sold on blue light glasses, saying they eased eyestrain. But she’s changed her view.
“After doing more research, I have learned that the blue light technology isn’t well-founded and is largely a placebo effect,” Sattler said this month. “I now wear mild prescription glasses, and THAT has made a major difference. I believe I was experiencing relief from achy eyes with the blue light glasses because I would take them off regularly to clean them, adjust them, or talk to a co-worker in my office.”
You can easily order prescription and nonprescription blue light glasses at the optometrist’s office or online.
Give Your Eyes a Break
If you’re worried about how computers and other blue light-emitting screens are affecting your eyes, you can find relief without special eyewear.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Vision Council, and other vision-related organizations urge moderation in screen use. Most of them recommend adopting the 20-20-20 rule. That means that every 20 minutes, you’ll look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology also recommends taking these steps:
- Adjust your seat, or the position of your computer, so your eyes are about 25 inches from the screen. Position the screen so you’re gazing slightly downward.
- Use a matte screen filter on the screen to reduce glare.
- Use artificial tears when your eyes feel dry.
- Pay attention to the lighting in the room where you work. You might try increasing your screen contrast.
If you wear contact lenses, give your eyes a break by wearing glasses now and then.