At a glance
• What Is Blue Light?
Our skin has always been exposed to various sources of blue light waves, though in decades past most of that exposure came from the sun.
But these days, we are exposed to another — and often more prevalent — source of blue light: an artificial source that is emitted by our electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computer screens.
Our devices are with us 24/7/365, which accentuates the need for us to protect our bodies against artificial blue light. And research tells us that working five days per week with 6 hours or more in front of a screen can have the same impact on our skin as spending 25 minutes in the sun without protection.
Plus, research tells us that blue light goes well beyond skin deep to effect multiple aspects of health.
It is well past time people got serious about blue light — how to minimize exposure and how to protect our eyes, skin, and even our sleep habits from this “unseen” invader.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum and makes up about one-third of all visible light. The most significant source of blue light is the sun, and there are plenty of artificial sources as well, such as fluorescent light bulbs, flat screen LED televisions, computer monitors, smart phones, and tablets.
Sunlight is comprised of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet light. When these lights combine, it becomes the white light that we see. Prevent Blindness notes that each light has a different energy and wavelength. Red light is on one end of the spectrum, as it has longer wavelengths and less energy. On the other end, blue light rays have shorter wavelengths and more energy. In fact, blue light has the shortest wavelength and highest energy on the visible light spectrum.
Visible light is all around us — especially in our atmosphere. For example, the sky usually looks blue because blue light waves bounce off nitrogen and oxygen particles in the atmosphere. So, as you can see, blue light is virtually everywhere — which is why it is important to be cognizant of impact it has on our bodies.
How Blue Light Negatively Impacts Our Body
Our bodies benefit from basking in light. Blue light helps boost our energy, improve our mood, and even regulate our circadian rhythm and sleep efficiency.
And though it is necessary to get year-round exposure to light, it is especially valuable during the winter months when sunlight is limited.
But like most things, too much blue light can be bad for you. In fact, an overabundance of blue light exposure from our electronic devices can cause damage to our eyes, disrupt our sleep cycles, and even lead to daytime fatigue.
When we use our devices, almost all visible blue light passes through the cornea and lens, where it ultimately reaches the retina. And though scientists are currently laying the groundwork for more extensive studies on how blue light impacts our eyes, research shows that too much exposure could lead to severe eye-related issues such as digital eyestrain and retina damage.
- Blue light-inducing factors such as fatigue, dry eyes, bad lighting, and even how sit in front of the computer can strain our eyes.
- Moreover, research suggests that continued exposure could damage retinal cells because blue light can penetrate through lens to the retina.
Have you ever tried to fall asleep only to be distracted by a light source that you can’t control? Maybe that light source was a bright television screen, a streetlight illuminating your room through a window, or even the faintest hint of light peeking in under the bedroom door.
No matter the source, light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin and throw off your sleep cycles.
But blue light does so more powerfully, research conducted at Harvard suggests. An experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of blue light exposure to green light exposure of comparable brightness found that blue light suppressed melatonin for nearly twice as long than the other light wave. Furthermore, blue light shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much: 3 hours versus 1.5 hours.
- The effects of blue light on circadian rhythm are notable as well. According to research published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology, numerous studies have shown that blue light can regulate the body’s biological clock (or circadian rhythm), and promote alertness, memory, and cognition.
- But as the medical school at Harvard University puts it: blue light has a dark side. The school ponders the impact of the easy access to all this artificial light and suggests that we may be paying a price for basking it in at almost all times of day.
We’ve covered how blue light is connected to your eyes and circadian rhythm, but it also linked to skin health. You see, blue light poses a threat to your skin because while UV light damages our cells’ DNA directly, blue light can harm the collagen content of your skin through oxidative stress. This produces free radicals — the unstable oxygen molecules that wrinkle our skin and cause premature aging.
Research published in the Journal of Biomedical Physics & Engineering doubled down on the connection between blue light and skin, noting that dermatologists believe the frequent exposure to visible light produced by smartphones can lead to skin damage and accelerated aging.
The scientific journal also noted that skin is a “major target” of oxidative stress and the connection between skin aging and oxidative stress is well documented in studies and other journals.
Protect Yourself from The Blue Light Blues
Let’s face it — it is nearly impossible to avoid blue light. Between the sun, the lightbulbs in our homes, and the electronic devices that are almost always by our side, it is difficult to not be exposed.
But there are ways to protect our bodies — especially our eyes — from too much blue light.
According to ophthalmologist Nicole Bajic, MD, we can practice safe use of blue light emitting devices and take the proper steps in preventing ourselves from prolonged damaged.
Perhaps the most obvious step is to throw on a pair of blue light blocking glasses and carry on with your day. However, a recent study found little evidence to support the use of blue-blocking filters as a clinical treatment for digital eye strain. Alas, we turn to other solutions such as wearing light sensitivity glasses, sitting an arm’s length away from your screen, and utilizing the “20-20-20” rule:
- Wear light sensitivity glasses: Dr. Bajic states, “If someone has light sensitivity due to migraines or other light-sensitive conditions, they can get an Fl-41 tint, which is a better option than blue light glasses.”
- Sit an arm’s length away: “People should sit a comfortable distance away from screens,” says Dr. Bajic. And though “a comfortable distance” varies for everyone, it is recommended that we sit an arm’s length — or about 25 inches — away from your screen.
- Try the 20-20-20 rule: According to Dr. Bajic, “By looking a further distance away, it forces the eyes to relax by breaking accommodation.” This also helps us blink again at our bodies’ normal blinking rate. With this in mind, try looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
Additionally, look for supplements containing a clinically studied 10 mg dose of Lutein — a leading blue light blocking botanical. Lutein is naturally present in certain fruits and vegetables and, along with zeaxanthin, is the only nutrient deposited specifically into the eyes to help filter blue light. Our bodies do not produce lutein, so it is important to turn to external sources to help support vision health, hydrated skin, and brain function.
Remember To Bask in Blue Light Responsibly!
Our bodies have been exposed to different levels of light since the early days of human life. But modern humans are not exposed to enough levels of natural light during the day. And with the rise in popularity of smart phones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions, our electronic devices have exposed us to more artificial light than ever before.
That is why we must protect ourselves against too much exposure from blue light emitting devices whenever we can. And though blue light is seemingly always shining on us, we can protect our bodies and enjoy it responsibly – just like we do the sun.