Is your phone screen making you age faster?

Can blue-light skin damage from our electronic devices accelerate ageing? Here’s what you should know.

Let’s face it, modern life seems intent on ageing us – from the sun, stress and smoking to sleep deprivation and alcohol.

Now our skin may have a new enemy – our screens.

The blue light beaming from our electronic devices can lead to changes in our skin cells and ultimately accelerate ageing, research shows.

Experts say more conclusive research is needed before we rush to unplug, but protecting our skin from blue light may just help to keep it youthful for longer.

Impacts of blue-light skin damage

While the sun is the main source of blue light, it also emanates from fluorescent and LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs and our electronic devices.

“We know, in high doses, blue light does cause photoageing,” dermatologist Dr Li-Chuen Wong from Sydney Skin says.

“It causes DNA damage and tissue damage and that’s what will then speed up the ageing process.

“It doesn’t cause skin cancer, though – that’s a different type of UV exposure.”

But Dr Wong, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Sydney, says the amount of blue light emitted from our devices is low.

“Our exposure to blue light is overwhelmingly from sunlight, with only a fraction from our phones, laptops and other electronic devices,” she says.

“At the moment the evidence is inconclusive about the impact of our devices.

“I’d be more concerned about the way it changes our circadian rhythms.”

On the flipside, scientists have long held that blue light can help our skin – to treat complaints such as acne – but only in short bursts.

A literature review published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology says low exposure times to high-energy blue light can help prevent skin diseases.

But it added, “studies have revealed that longer exposure to high-energy blue light can increase the amount of DNA damage, cell and tissue death, and injury, eye damage, skin barrier damage and photoageing”.

Prolonged exposure to blue light can cause our skin to develop brown age spots, and lose collagen and elastin over time, Dr Wong notes.

“Blue light penetrates the skin and causes the production of what we call reactive oxygen species, or free radicals,” she says.

“These little molecules are bad for us – they cause DNA destruction, which goes on to break down collagen and elastin, as well as hyperpigmentation and photoageing.”

Dr Wong says ultimately, blue light from our screens should be minimised for many other health and wellbeing reasons.

Gold Coast skincare specialist Dr Tanya Unni says the potential threat posed by our screens is not on the radar of many of her clients, but she expects awareness to grow.

“I think we will also see more research developing on this in the future,” Dr Unni says.

How to protect yourself from blue-light skin damage

Can make-up help protect you from blue light?

A thick layer of foundation creates a barrier that can help repel harmful rays, Dr Wong says.

She recommends using mineral and water-based foundations and avoiding oil-based make-up, which can cause skin conditions such as acne.

But ultimately, the best weapon against premature ageing is applying a barrier sunscreen that contains active ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

“There are also a lot of great products with sunscreen in them, such as primers and moisturisers,” she says.

In recent years, a plethora of beauty products, from serums to mists and moisturisers, has burst onto the shelves, purporting to save our skin from the damaging light of our devices.

Dr Wong’s advice? There’s no substitute for sunscreen: “Save your money. Sunscreen is cheaper.”

The health advantages of taking a break from screens

If you are worried about how much time you spend glued to your screen, taking a step back can pay multiple dividends for your mental health, sleep, posture and even eyesight.

Dr Unni suggests using a blue-light filter on your computer monitor and skin protective antioxidant products such as vitamins A, C and E.

“We know that blue light can also cause a lack of sleep, which also affects skin health, so putting your device on night mode around the clock (to reduce blue light) is a good idea,” she says.

Blue-light beauty routine

  • Always use a barrier sunscreen
  • Reduce screen time
  • Put devices on night mode 24/7
  • Use a blue-light filter on your computer monitor
  • Invest in topical antioxidants

More on ageing:

Written by Elissa Doherty.