Is your phone or laptop really causing your skin to age and if so how and what can you do about it? Rosie Taylor finds out.
Everyday our faces are exposed to lightwaves which can damage and age the skin. But it’s not just the sun causing problems – now some scientists are claiming light from laptops and smartphones can be dangerous too. Electronic devices emit high energy visible (HEV) blue light, which some studies have shown to be as harmful as UVA and UVB rays, penetrating deeply into the skin.
One study by cosmetic manufacturer Lipo Chemicals has suggested exposure to blue light could affect the skin’s ability to heal – a key factor in speeding up the ageing process, and they’ve created a product to help combat it. Another recent study, by Mary Logue at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, found holding a device like an iPhone or MacBook on a sunny day could increase the skin’s exposure to UV light by up to 75 per cent. The authors of the research, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), said this was because the devices reflected light off the screen into the face. “Significant levels of UV exposure, such as those found in this study, increase cumulative lifetime UV dosage,” Logue claimed.
While sunscreen may help protect against UV rays, it won’t protect the skin from blue light. Dr Simon Zokaie, of the Linia Skin Clinic on Harley Street, says that the different wavelengths of the light emitted from handheld devices mean standard SPF creams are not effective. He told the Facial Aesthetic Conference and Exhibition in London last year that the combination of light and electromagnetic radiation from smartphones could cause wrinkles and increase ageing of the skin.
Clinical facialist Kate Kerr said: “HEV (high-energy visible) light, which is emitted from our phone and computer screens, is as damaging if not more so than UV light from the sun, penetrating more deeply than UV light and has a negative impact on the DNA within the cells as well as causing oxidative stress and inflammation. This all accelerates skin ageing.”
She also said heat from holding a phone to the face on long conversations could cause inflammation, leading to hyperpigmentation and discolouration.
IS IT REALLY THAT BAD?
There are few studies in this area so there is no hard evidence on whether blue light can damage the skin and, if so, the extent to which it has an effect. Some experts are unconvinced. Dr Richard Barlow, of the Lister Hospital in London, said that while there was evidence blue light had a physiological effect on the skin – it is used in acne treatments, for example – there was no strong science showing whether the light from screens had an effect.
He added: “Computers have been around for a long time and there are people who have spent 40 years of their working lives sitting at computer screens for eight hours a day. If blue light was so bad you would think some of that group would be showing signs of it now. Applying some common sense, it is not thought to be a major problem.”
But while there may not be a direct effect, Dr Rupert Critchley, of Viva Skin Clinics, said multiple studies had shown blue light interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm – which regulates sleep – and it’s when we sleep that our bodies take the opportunity to repair cellular damage.
“Anything which interferes with sleep affects the body’s ability to heal,” he said. “In skin, this means it affects its ability to repair itself which leads to accelerated ageing.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you’re worried about your levels of blue light exposure you can try a specialist cream designed to block HEV light. Kate Kerr recommends using an antioxidant cream for protection, as well as a Vitamin A cream at night to stimulate collagen production and stabilise the melanocytes which cause pigmentation. These she says will help counteract any damage that may be caused by HEV light and heat from devices. Wearing a high-SPF sunscreen will also help limit the effects from reflected UVA and UVB rays.
But experts agree the best prevention is to avoid using your phone for long periods outside. Commenting on her research, Mary Logue said: “The harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays have been well documented, and limiting exposure is the single most effective preventive measure an individual can take.”
Kate Kerr added: “If you can’t read your phone outside in the sun due to the reflection this is a sign that you should not be using it and if you must, head indoors!”