Can Blue Light Harm Your Skin?

blue light hand

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Key Takeaways

  • Blue light skin care has been entering the market as people spend more time in front of their screens.
  • Experts agree that blue light emitted from the sun can be harmful, though there is some debate about whether blue light from digital screens is enough to damage the skin.
  • Physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide provide blue light protection.

You've likely heard about how blue light can harm your eyes and sleep quality. You may have even purchased a pair of blue light glasses. Recently, skin care products have also hit the shelves, claiming to protect our skin from the harmful effects of blue light. But are they necessary?

The main source of blue light is sunlight, but digital screens including cellphones, computers, laptops, and TVs are all additional sources of blue light, according to board-certified dermatologist Thomas Griffin, Jr. MD.

Research on the subject is limited, but experts agree that the lower energy and longer wavelength in blue light can penetrate deeper into the skin than ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause skin cancer.

Blue Light vs. UV Light

Blue light has the shortest wavelengths detectable by the human eye, between 400–500 nanometers. UV light is invisible and has a wavelength below 400 nanometers.

“Traditionally, we have looked at the shorter wavelengths of UVA and UVB light as being harmful and carcinogenic to the skin,” Griffin told Verywell. “However, given the increase in screen time in the modern world, the skin changes due to blue light have been brought to light.”

He added that one of the most common skin-related impact of blue light exposure is hyperpigmentation, which causes the skin to be darker or different in color. It has also been shown to cause premature aging, collagen breakdown, and skin barrier dysfunction.

But How Harmful Is Artificial Blue Light?

While blue light from the sun can negatively impact our skin, there's no consensus on whether digital screens emit enough blue light to be harmful. 

One 2018 study found that “exposure to light emitted from electronic devices on human skin cells, even in case of short exposures, can increase the generation of reactive oxygen species,” which leads to aging.

But a different study from 2021 found that “the amount of artificial blue light emitted during conventional use of electronic devices is nowhere near enough to trigger harmful skin effects.” According to this study, spending an entire, uninterrupted week in front of a monitor at a distance of 30 cm from the screen would be the same—in terms of blue light effects—as just one minute outside on a sunny summer day.

Citing the 2021 study, Beth Goldstein, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, reiterated this point.

“It turns out that blue light from screens is not as worrisome as we once thought,” she said, “but visible light containing blue light in the environment continues to be of concern.”

Blue Light Has Its Benefits Too

When discussing the effects of blue light, the emphasis tends to be on its potential harms, but blue light is also sometimes used as a treatment for many skin conditions.

In dermatology, according to Goldstein, blue light—when used at lower energy settings—can be used to treat precancerous skin spots and psoriasis. But it has to be used alongside other medications.

“We also know that this same light alone without any additional medications can cause redness, increased irregular pigmentation in particular in darker skin types, cause oxidative stress, some photoaging and can aggravate certain skin diseases that are light sensitive including reactions to certain medications,” Goldstein said.

How to Protect Your Skin

While more research needs to be done on blue light emitted from digital screens, experts say we should protect our skin from the blue light that comes from sun exposure. 

According to Griffin, traditional chemical sunscreens don’t often provide blue light protection. Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, specifically those that contain zinc oxide, do provide protection against blue light as well as increased protection against UVA and UVB light compared to chemical sunscreens.

“These sunscreens should be the main source of protection,” he said. “Additionally, iron oxides, antioxidants, and moisturizers can help.”

Iron oxides help to block the blue light in a similar way to sunscreen, Griffin explained, while antioxidants found in some quality topical serums help to prevent free radicals. Moisturizers meanwhile help to hydrate the skin and rebuild the skin barrier which can become damaged by blue light.

And if you are worried about the potential for negative impacts from your devices, Griffin suggested purchasing blue light-blocking shields to be placed over your screens, and you can also activate the night mode setting on your devices to reduce their blue light emission.

What This Means For You

If you're worried about the effects of blue light, specifically from the sun, using a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide can help protect you. While more research is needed on whether blue light emitted from screens is enough to cause damage, you can always use a blue light-blocking shield and activate the night mode setting on your devices just in case.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Campiche R, Curpen SJ, Lutchmanen-Kolanthan V, et al. Pigmentation effects of blue light irradiation on skin and how to protect against themInt J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(4):399-406. doi:10.1111/ics.12637

  2. Arjmandi N, Mortazavi Gh, Zarei S, Faraz M, Mortazavi SAR. Can light emitted from smartphone screens and taking selfies cause premature aging and wrinkles? J Biomed Phys Eng. 2018;8(4):447-452.

  3. Mann T, Eggers K, Rippke F, et al. High‐energy visible light at ambient doses and intensities induces oxidative stress of skin—Protective effects of the antioxidant and Nrf2 inducer Licochalcone A in vitro and in vivoPhotodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2020;36(2):135-144. doi:10.1111/phpp.12523

  4. Vandersee S, Beyer M, Lademann J, Darvin ME. Blue-violet light irradiation dose dependently decreases carotenoids in human skin, which indicates the generation of free radicalsOxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:579675. doi:10.1155/2015/579675

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.