Do you really need to protect your skin against blue light?

It’s an irrefutable reality of 21st-century life: We spend ample time on our smartphones, laptops, and tablets each and every day. And while you might associate the effects of increased screen time with headaches and eye strain, there’s another part of your body that’s impacted, too: your skin. Screens emit blue light, which can cause hyperpigmentation, melasma, and age spots, say experts.

In the wake of this newly-discovered screen-to-skin connection, beauty companies have started paying attention, too: Several have even produced blue light products specifically designed to protect the dermis as you text and type. As this beauty category gathers steam, we wanted to better understand how blue light impacts the skin, which ingredients actually block these rays, and, ultimately, whether or not you really need to prioritise protection.

Blue light, explained

According to Hadley King, MD, blue light is high-energy visible (HEV) light that is both high-frequency and high-energy; it clocks in between 400 to 450 nm on the visible light spectrum. This light is all around us, as it’s the type that we can actually see.

“HEV light is primarily from the sun, but it’s also emitted by smartphones, tablets, televisions, fluorescent bulbs, and computer screens,” Dr King says, noting that exposure to blue light isn’t entirely negative—in fact, our body needs it for a myriad of functions. “Routine exposure to blue light, preferably from daylight, helps regulate our body’s sleep-wake cycle, improves our mood, keeps us alert, and can enhance memory.”

How blue light impacts skin

blue light skincare
Girl using her mobile and her laptop is on too; Image Credit: Westend61/Getty

Too much blue light exposure, however, can be deleterious to the body. HEV light penetrates the dermis, which are the lower layers of skin—and while blue light is not associated with conditions like skin cancer that can result from UV ray exposure, it is known to cause the skin to age prematurely and contribute to hyperpigmentation, melasma, and age spots.

“When people think about the discolouration and the skin, they are often focused on UV light and its effects,” says Erum Ilyas, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in King of Prussia, Pa. “However, blue light is garnering more attention these days given the widespread use of portable electronics and LED lights and reliance on these for work and school.”

Discolouration isn’t the only effect—skin firmness and elasticity may also be implicated by this light. “Like UV rays, HEV light generates free radicals, or reactive oxygen species,” says Dr King. “These free radicals cause skin cells to produce enzymes that break down collagen and elastin in the skin.”

Excessive exposure

Studies show that the amount of blue light you are regularly exposed to—and for how long—impacts your skin’s risk, notes Dr Ilyas. “For example, if you work from home and spend hours on computers and devices while illuminating your workspace with LED-based lighting, then your exposure may be more significant than someone who spends limited time on a device,” she says, pointing to teachers who might stand in front of a classroom for the majority of their day.

Here’s the thing: The long-term effects of blue light exposure aren’t as obvious as that of sunburn from UV exposure. To assess how it could be impacting you, Dr Ilyas recommends taking note of your current skin concerns. “If one of your skin challenges is dyschromia or discolouration of the skin, it’s important to consider that blue light is playing a role,” she says.

Skin types prone to blue light damage

Blue light ultimately impacts certain skin tones more than others—but not the ones you might expect. According to Dr Ilyas, you need to be particularly careful if you tan (not burn!) easily. “For skin types three through six, which have a tendency to tan easier than they burn, exposure to blue light has been associated with an increased risk of discolouration of the skin,” she says.

Do you need special blue light skincare products?

There are blue light-specific products on the market—but Dr King shares that they might not be necessary if the formulas you already have shield skin from UV radiation and free radicals from all sources. “In the morning, I apply an antioxidant serum to help protect my skin from free radicals from UV, blue light, pollution, and any other sources,” she says. “I then apply a tinted SPF moisturiser that contains iron oxide, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide to help protect my skin from UV, as well as visible light.”

4 ways to protect skin from blue light

blue light skincare
A man sitting in front of computers; Image Credit: Luke Peters/Unsplash

If you’re interested in trying out products that offer blue light blockers, consider these formula types—and other protective options that have nothing to do with beauty at all.

Tinted sunscreen

Consider using a tinted sunscreen that shields UV and blue light, like the EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum. The formula’s iron oxides block blue light; this ingredient is also commonly found in other sunscreen products. Dr King notes that it takes about 3.5% iron oxide to get visible light protection, so be sure to read the label carefully.


According to Dr King, antioxidants like licochalcone A and glycyrrhetinic acid work together to defend the deeper epidermal layers from sun-induced damage—and clinical research has shown that sunscreens containing licochalcone A also offer effective and extended protection from HEV light, too.

Blue light screen covers

Skin care products aren’t your only line of defence against this light. Dr King recommends installing covers that that block the light emitted by smartphones, tablets, and computer monitors. Companies such as Eyejust and Ocushield offer covers for all of your devices.

Night mode

In need of another option? Enable the “night mode” settings on your digital devices permanently. “This significantly reduces the light in favour of harmless yellow light,” says Dr King.

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