Blue Light Is As Bad As UV Rays

It causes the same harm to your skin. Yet, conventional sunscreen and skincare may not protect you enough. This is what you can do.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It causes the same harm to your skin. Yet, conventional sunscreen and skincare may not protect you enough. This is what you can do.

You already know all about UV rays. How they penetrate the skin, causing hyperpigmentation and wrinkles. How they burn the skin. And how they may play a pivotal role in skin cancer.

What’s less well known is that blue light, too, is bad for skin. While UV rays are invisible, blue light is on the visible spectrum (the range of wavelengths of light that let us see colour).

It is both insidious and inevitable, because it is outdoors and indoors, coming from the sun, our smartphone screens, our TV sets and other electronic devices, and even fluorescent lighting.

Should you worry about it? Yes and no.

The amount of blue light emitted by devices is only a fraction of damaging rays emitted by the sun, says Dr Nisha Suyien Chandran, head and consultant of the division of dermatology at the National University Hospital. “There is no convincing evidence that blue light is more damaging to the skin than UV rays.”

But here’s the caveat: While blue light isn’t more harmful than UV rays, the sunscreens we use may not have the ingredients to protect skin against blue light pollution, says Dr Eugene Tan, consultant at the National Skin Centre. Also, because we are exposed to blue light round the clock, our bare, non-sunscreen protected skin could be damaged even at night.

Blue light harms the skin in two ways. First, it penetrates skin like UVA rays, causing hyperpigmentation and loss of elasticity. “Because of the high energy blue light has, it can reach the hypodermis and contribute to photoageing,” says Sofia Gracia, director of product development at sunprotection brand Supergoop!.

Second, blue light affects your sleep. It suppresses melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle), says Dr Nadine Pernodet, vice-president of Estee Lauder’s Skin Biology and Bioactives group.

“It signals to the body that it’s still daytime, and that it should remain alert and awake. This impacts our sleep quality, which inhibits our skin’s natural repair, leading to accelerated signs of ageing,” says Dr Pernodet. That’s why using blue lightemitting devices like your mobile phone, e-reader, tablet or other electronic gadgets before bedtime is a bad idea.

How do you protect your skin, then? Try using products with ingredients that may prevent blue light from causing skin damage. Supergoop!’s Unseen Sunscreen has red algae, which absorbs blue light before it comes into contact with your skin. These algae live in the oceans at a depth that only blue light can reach, so they survive by absorbing it as food.

Vitamin E may also help. In Estee Lauder’s new Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex eye serum, the antioxidant reflects blue light away from the delicate eye area. The serum also has a clock gene technology to jump-start the skin’s night-time repair process each day.

Allies of Skin has turned to a flower extract – hydrolysed verbascum thapsus – in its 1A All-day Pollution Repair Mask. Apply the overnight mask and let the extract turn bad into good by converting blue light into a harmless derivative that increases skin luminosity. - CT


These products could protect your skin against blue light:


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1 Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex, $104.
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2 Lancome UV Expert Youth Shield Aqua Gel SPF50/PA++++, $75.
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3 Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF40, $48.
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4 Allies of Skin 1A All-day Pollution Repair Mask, $149.