Effects Of Blue Light On Our Skin
What is Blue Light?
The term blue light refers to the blue wavelength. It’s more eco friendly, and has seen a recent boost in usage with the rise of touchscreen electronics. This type of light has the most power among the visible light spectrum to affect your internal sleep clock, known as your circadian rhythm. It also has the power to boost alertness and focus, which is why blue light seems to be more beneficial during the day when you need a mental boost.
Unfortunately, that boost can keep you awake when you should be winding down, causing a disruption in your sleep schedule and a host of other problems. With so many people constantly on their screens, there are harmful effects of blue light you should be aware of before scrolling through Twitter at 9pm.
Effects of Blue Light
Everyone has a slightly different circadian rhythm, the cyclical 24 hour period of human activity. You want your circadian rhythm to sync up with your surroundings for the most productive and energetic outcome. However, blue light can throw your biological clock out of order. It’s the same out of order feeling you get from experiencing jet lag. Your periods of activity and inactivity - periods of being awake versus sleeping - are no longer cohesive with your surroundings. The sun is still up but you’re dead tired. Or it’s one in the morning and you’ve never felt more awake.
This disruption of your circadian rhythm is unhealthy for a number of reasons. For one, upsetting your biological clock upsets all of the internal processes that revolve around a schedule of rest. The average person spends about eight hours asleep and sixteen hours awake within one 24 hour cycle. During those sixteen waking hours, you are most physically and mentally active, and tissue cell growth is at its peak.
When you sleep, the body has a chance to recover. Your voluntary muscle movements all but cease and metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure all drop. Your digestive system is allowed to work harder since energy is not being diverted to other systems. About two hours before you wake up, your body secretes adrenaline hormones to provide you with the energy you will need for the rest of the day.
All of these processes are controlled by the hypothalamus, a region of your brain which receives information from your eyes. Your retina signals the brain when it is light and when it’s dark, and the brain uses this information to monitor the production of melatonin. Melatonin, as you probably already know, is the hormone responsible for your sleep and is integral in maintaining a regular circadian rhythm.
When the retina senses light, melatonin production is hindered. When the retina senses darkness, melatonin production is increased and your body prepares for sleep. Light wavelength and intensity can both affect the production of melatonin. Blue light, particularly the intensity of blue light emanating from your smartphone or laptop, can inhibit the production of melatonin and prevent you from falling asleep. This means you stay up later, which means you don’t sleep as long, which means the body can’t carry out necessary processes during sleep for as long as it needs to keep you healthy.
A Harvard study suggests that lack of sleep can be linked to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity as a result of the increased blood sugar caused by the disruption of the circadian rhythm. They also found that blue light is almost twice as powerful as any other type of light when it comes to suppressing melatonin levels. The study showed that people exposed to 6.5 hours of blue light experienced twice as much shift in their circadian rhythm and half as much melatonin production when compared to people who were exposed to green light for the same amount of time.
Blue light can also accelerate the aging of retinal tissue and has been shown to negatively affect the skin. Blue light lives right next to UV radiation on the spectrum, a wavelength that causes up to 90% of visible signs of skin aging. Likewise, some properties of blue light could be linked to the production of free radicals which accelerate the signs of aging skin.
But the direct link between blue light and premature skin damage is tentative. The real culprit is lack of sleep. Getting under 7 hours of sleep a night can lead to mild inconveniences like puffy eyes or more harmful effects from internal imbalances. When you don’t sleep enough, your body can’t produce the right amount of cortisol, causing increased stress and upset skin. During sleep is also when your body produces collagen which tightens and firms your skin. Lack of collagen causes your skin to lose its natural elasticity, leading to wrinkles.
Sleep deprivation can also compromise your immune system, allowing your skin to become inflamed and irritated without internal protection. When you sleep, your body completes natural regenerative processes that can combat all of these issues. If you’re worried about your skin, the first place to look for a solution might be your bed.
One of the easiest things you can do to prevent blue light damage is limit your exposure to blue light. This might mean turning off all electronics two hours before bed. A lot of modern phones and laptops come with a “night mode” that switches the screen from blue light to red or orange light. Turning this on once the sun goes down or even all day will reduce the close range exposure to blue light from electronics.
If you’re looking to invest, look for a pair of blue light glasses. This option is great for people who don’t have the option of avoiding blue light during the day, especially if you work a night shift or are constantly around blue light from LEDs and computer screens. There are also ranges of special SPF sunscreens that protect more specifically against blue light. Check the bottle to see if blue light protection is listed.
While it’s inarguably beneficial to limit your blue light exposure, it’s not something you need to worry about all the time. Blue light exposure from your phone screen is not more powerful than the naturally occurring blue light exposure from the sun. What’s harmful is the artificial exposure after the sun goes down. Sleep is more important than you may realize, so take care of your circadian rhythm.