Skin-Care Tips

What Happens to Your Skin When You Sit in Front of a Screen All Day

Rachel Lapidos

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Photo: Getty Images/Marco_Piunti

If you do your skin-care homework, you’re already diligent about protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. But UVA and UVB light are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to light that can damage the skin. Skin damage from blue light has become a growing concern in the beauty world.

Although blue light is often associated with screens (think TVs, computers, and smartphones), the main emitter of blue light is actually the sun. “Though the blue light emitted from indoor sources is much lower than that in sunlight, the amount of time you are exposed is often many hours each day,” says Robyn Gmyrek, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Union Square Laser Dermatology. What happens to your skin when you’re exposed to this kind of light is an influx of free radicals and oxidative stress. “These free radicals cause damage and breakdown of collagen and elastic tissue and they also lead to inflammation, which can be harmful to skin cells,” she says.

When you’re exposed to blue light from the sun, studies have shown that you’re also more prone to getting hyperpigmentation on the skin. “Studies show that it increases unwanted pigmentation or discoloration, especially in darker skin types,” says Dr. Gmyrek. Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, echoes this: “Particularly for women of color, we need to be really cognizant of using sunscreens with iron oxides in them,” she says of the mineral that’s commonly found in foundations, tinted SPFs, and brush-on SPFs, which is potentially helpful in blocking out blue light.

As for the rays that come from inside, via your screens, there currently isn’t research on how prolonged exposure can affect your skin. “It is unknown how much screen time you have to have in order for blue light to impact your skin to a point where there is damage,” says Dr. Gmyrek. That said, people are spending much more time in front of screens than ever before. “We can say with certainty that blue light is worsening hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Gohara.

The verdict? Dermatologists say that your best bet is to err on the side of caution and protect your skin both indoors and outdoors. Prevention, of course, is your safest solution. Keep scrolling for the best ways to protect your skin from blue light.

How to protect yourself from blue light skin damage:

Broad-spectrum sunscreen: According to Dr. Gmyrek, the safest thing to do when outdoors is to always protect yourself from all ultraviolet rays. Her tip? Use a broad-spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher that’s also spiked with iron oxide (which isn’t an approved SPF filter but is purported to help block visible light). “The only ingredients that truly protect skin from blue light are mineral-based sunscreen ingredients with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or iron oxides, since these physically block the light from reaching the skin,” she says.  These should still be reapplied every two to four hours (or sooner if you’re sweating). Try MDSolarsciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($30).

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are essential to preserve the integrity of collagen within skin, because they “help to neutralize any ongoing damage from remaining free radicals,” says Dr. Gmyrek. Vitamin C is a major source of antioxidants, as is green tea extract, vitamin B3, and resveratrol. Try the Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum ($20), which has several sources of vitamin C packed into one bottle. Another good option is GoodHabit Glow Potion Oil Serum ($80), which is an oil-essence-serum hybrid filled with antioxidants and the brand’s marine active extract that provides your skin with a protective shield from blue light.

Retinoids: A little known secret is that vitamin A product (aka whichever type of retinoid you’re using) can help with repairing blue light skin damage. “Topical retinoids will continue to boost new collagen and elastin, improve the texture of the skin, and eliminate unwanted pigmentation,” says Dr. Gmyrek. She adds that alpha-hydroxy acids can do the same thing. Apply something like the Klur Stellar Restoration Serum ($98), a potent blend of vitamins A, B, and C.

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