What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? If you’re anything like me, you hit snooze, then check Instagram, Facebook, your WhatsApp chats, have a quick scroll through the latest celebrity gossip and, 15 minutes later, you get up. We’re a generation reliant on our phones – be it for work, to shop or to pay a bill. But what if I told you that every time you snap a selfie or scroll through Twitter you‘re being exposed to the most silent skin aggressor of all? Blue light.
“Blue light is fast becoming our biggest skin enemy,” Noella Gabriel, founder of skincare brand Elemis tells me. “Our lifestyle habits are changing; we spend less time outdoors in the sun and more time inside staring at a screen than our parents did. Evidence suggests exposure to blue light on a daily basis causes long-term ageing, so adapting our skincare is essential.”
We know that protecting our skin from UVA and UVB rays is an absolute must, but little thought has been given to blue light, otherwise known as HEVL (high-energy visible light), until now. Emerging as the new beauty buzzword, some experts say the impact of blue light could be akin to the ageing effects of sun damage, and scientists are racing to develop ingredients to tackle it.
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But what exactly is it? “Visible blue light is a short, high-energy wavelength that can penetrate deeper than UVA or UVB rays,” explains certified dermatologist and professor of medicine at UCLA, Dr Howard Murad. Our faces are constantly exposed to HEVL, a natural part of sunlight that is also emitted from screens.
In the UK we spend more time using technology devices than we do sleeping. Some 79% of us check our smartphones in the last hour before turning our bedroom lights out, 28% in the five minutes before lights out, and 55% of us will reach for our devices within 15 minutes of waking. According to the app Moment, yesterday I clocked up six hours and 41 minutes of screen time on my phone alone. That doesn’t take into account the hours totted up sitting in front of my computer screen writing this feature, watching TV while I ate my dinner, or catching up on Netflix on my iPad in bed.
Experts at skincare brand Eucerin found that HEVL penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB. This leads to premature ageing by accelerating the oxidation process, causing hyperpigmentation, inflammation and damage to the skin barrier. So bingeing an entire series of Stranger Things in a day will be written all over your face, and we’re not just talking dark circles. Think ashy tone and lack of glow – like a digital hangover for your face. But with the right skincare, can we live to Snapchat another day? I resisted the urge to Google it (more blue light) and instead made a few phone calls.
Dr Dendy Engelman, consulting dermatologist for Elizabeth Arden, says that over the past ten years her patients have got younger. “Women in their early twenties come into my office with heightened pigmentation. When I look into the waiting room, they’re all sat staring at their screens. As this accelerated hyperpigmentation is developing out of proportion to their sun damage and darkening over the winter months, we know it can’t be due to UV. The pigment cells are feeding off this new indoor light pollution.”
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HEVL stimulates enzymes in the skin that trigger excess melanin production, leading to patchy discolouration, dullness and uneven skintone. Interestingly, studies prove that this particular form of light pollution has a more damaging effect in terms of pigment on darker skintones. In a consecutive four-day SkinCeuticals study, Fitzpatrick types 1 and 2 (pale, blonde or red hair, freckles) had a 4.3% increase in pigmentation damage. However, in Fitzpatrick types 5 and 6 (including Middle-Eastern, Asian and black skintones) the increase was 18.1%. Look in the mirror, particularly at the side of your face you take phone calls on.
Is there a difference in the smattering of pigmentation? Dr Engelman suggests going hands-free to limit the exposure to light when your phone is held directly to your skin, while skincare expert Paula Begoun advises switching your screen to night mode to lessen the amount of HEVL emitted.
Dr Marko Lens, plastic surgeon and founder of Zelens Skincare says it’s not just pigmentation we should be wary of. Think about how hot your face feels after chatting on the phone: that’s inflammation. “The skin’s circulation has increased quickly, enlarging the blood vessels and causing short-term redness,” explains Dr Lens. “Cumulative behaviour takes its toll, compromising both our skin’s barrier function and collagen stores, causing skin to slacken. A topical antioxidant is essential to combat pigmentation and inflammation.”
Vitamin C is the gold standard when it comes to brightening pigmentation, vitamin A (or retinol) helps to stimulate collagen and stabilise free radicals, while cutting-edge brands are now incorporating carotenoid antioxidant lutein into formulations developed for chronic screen-scrollers.
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If all this wasn’t enough to prompt you to put down your phone, another result of our screen addiction is an altered face shape. “Continuous looking down and squinting has changed the way people’s faces sit,” celebrity facialist Nichola Joss tells me. “I’ve seen a significant decrease in the tension of facial muscles.”
The Y-zone is a new area of concern; sagging cheeks, jowls and a creased décolleté never usually appeared until middle age. Remedy this by arming yourself with a Yu Ling Jade Facial Roller (£22, Cult Beauty) and use upward motions to relax the muscles during your next screening. Take extra care in the office, which has its own beauty microclimate. It’s a hotbed for inflammation when teamed with a face-on assault from your computer screen, plus heat from overhead LED lighting. Keep the new D-Pollution Essentiel Daily Protection Mist (£48, Chanel) on your desk and spritz hourly – it’s been proven to lower oxidative stress by 16%.
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It might be the silent skin enemy facing our generation, but the good news is it’s easy to prevent HEVL damage. For healthy-looking skin worthy of a #NoFilter, the options are to wear daily SPF and invest in modern pollution solutions – or give up your Instagram habit. It’s an easy choice, really.