How screens damage your skin
Quick question: how many times have you looked at a screen today? Do you have one in your eyeline right now? If your answers are ‘too many’ and ‘yes’, your skin is likely at risk. The dangers of UV damage are hardly breaking news, but the modern dependency on tech is exposing you to a new kind of light pollution that matches UV in its ability to rev up the ageing process: high-energy visible (HEV) light. ‘HEV light, also known as blue light, is similar to UV in structure and occurs naturally in the sun’s rays to regulate circadian cycles and memory,’ explains Aurélie Guyoux, scientific director at Institut Esthederm, Paris. So far, so good. ‘But, when emitted in large quantities by screens, it can be damaging to the dermis.’ So, what is it actually doing to your skin? ‘HEV light is silent – it doesn’t generate immediately visible marks or swelling like UV rays,’ explains Dr Maryam Zamani, aesthetic doctor and founder of MZ Skin. ‘But its stealth makes it more dangerous. Without you realising it’s happening, HEV light slowly but surely weakens your skin’s barrier function, accelerates photoageing and suppresses healing.’ Worst of all, this free-radical damage signals the release of MMP-1, an enzyme that breaks down skin collagen and elastin, making you look older, faster. And the damage runs deep. ‘Blue light is one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths, which penetrates skin more deeply than UVB and UVA rays,’ explains Dr Howard Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare. ‘On average, four eight-hour days in front of a laptop is equivalent to 20 minutes of midday UVA exposure.’ And, over time, that adds up. Going on a digital detox will sort that, right? A bit., but research shows that the HEV in daylight alone makes up 50% of the skin’s total oxidative stress – that’s as much as UVA and UVB combined. Add this to the time spent sitting in front of your screen – let’s face it, probably far more than you spend in the sun – and it’s no wonder your skin’s in trouble. As with UV damage, the fairer your skin, the less melanin (a pigment that blocks rays from entering and damaging skin) you have to provide natural protection. But it could be that those most at risk are those most concerned about appearance. ‘It’s not unusual for some people to take 50 or 60 selfies a day,’ says Dr Jean-louis Sebagh, skin expert and cosmetic doctor. ‘This is the most exposure to HEV light you can get, because you’re holding your phone near to, and angling it towards, your face.’ In fact, Dr Zein Obagi, dermatologist and founder of ZO Skin Health, claims he can tell which hand you hold your phone in just by the quality of the skin on your face. Granted, 60 a day is an extreme number of selfies, but, while scientists and dermatologists don’t know as much about HEV light as they do UV light, preliminary research suggests that the effects may be just as damaging.
One study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, concluded that, after HEV light exposure, the skin barrier was compromised, while another* found that it caused more pronounced pigmentation than UVB rays. Pretty unsettling if you tap away in front of a big computer screen all day at your desk, or feel anxious if you haven’t checked social media in the past hour. And just as UV rays can’t be shunned entirely for fear of a vitamin D deficiency, modern technology is a necessary evil – so your skin basically just has to live with it. Luckily, beauty brands are taking steps to protect your skin from the damage caused by all that screen time. Here are some of the best products to protect your face from your Snapchat habit. Phew. Now, pass that phone.