Can laptops and mobile phones really age our skin?

If you're anything like us and spend approximately 782 hours a day in front of your laptop or mobile phone, this is going to be a bitch to hear. Because apparently, electronic devices are damaging your skin and causing premature ageing.


It's called 'blue light damage' and it's just another thing in this world looking to suck the life out of your cute face. (And just when we were all getting the hang of the whole sunscreen thing. Ugh.)

Watch: The products and ingredients you need to know about. Post continues below. 

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In recent years, there's been a whole heap of studies and research going down to figure out the effects of blue light damage and what it really means for our skin. In response to this buzz, beauty brands have dropped a load of new products that promise to protect our skin from computer screens, mobile phones and other devices.

And, friends. This sh*t is going OFF. 

A recent study said sales of skincare with blue light protection has gone up 170 per cent in 2020. Makeup that aims to protect from blue light was up 179 per cent. That's pretty crazy stuff.

So, what's the go here? Is this something we should actually be worried about? Are all of these new skincare products worth our hard-earned pennies? Or is there some super evil marketing wizard who is absolutely killing it at life right now? 

We talked to a dermatologist to find out the truth.

Why is there such a buzz around blue light?

"We know that devices such as laptops, phones and tablets emit blue light. And - let’s face it - we are attached to our devices for hours a day, whether it be for work, home workouts or general relaxation," said dermatologist and founder of Bespoke Skin Technology, Dr Katherine Armour. "We read books on our screens, we scroll social media for hours daily, and in Victoria (and in many countries around the world!) we currently home school our children on a screen."

With COVID-19 leading many of us to spend even more time than usual on our screens, "the effects of visible light are at the forefront of our minds," said Dr Armour.


Can blue light really damage our skin?

If you don't know what the hell blue light actually is, we'll give you a quick rundown.

Basically, blue light is part of the visible light spectrum (FYI: UVA and UVB are part of the non-visible spectrum) and it's a high-energy, short-wavelength light. While the sun is the main source of blue light we're exposed to, we get a significant amount from our screens and indoor light sources, too. 

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While blue-light exposure can be good for you (it regulates your body's sleep pattern), it not only wreaks havoc on your eyes (everything your mum warned you about), but there's also evidence that it contributes to skin ageing, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

"Whilst the effects of UVA and UVB radiation on our skin in terms of skin ageing and induction of skin cancers are well-established, visible light (blue-violet light) was long believed to be harmless," said Dr Armour.

That is until relatively recently, where new scientific studies have proven the effects of blue light on human skin. When looking at the blue light that comes with sun exposure, "Radiation from the sun comprises only five to seven per cent ultraviolet light (UV), 45 per cent visible light (VIS), and 48 to 50 per cent infrared (IR) radiation," said Dr Armour.

While we're all aware of how UVA and UVB rays can cause sunburn and damage our skin, Dr Armour said that UVA combined with visible light can result in redness in those with fair-skin, as well as pigmentation and inflammation in those with darker skin types.

"Studies show that visible light alone, or in combination with infrared light generates reactive oxygen species, increases breakdown of our skin’s precious collagen, and may indirectly lead to DNA damage."

Sad face.

While traditional sunscreens protect against UVA and UVB radiation, they do not protect your skin against visible light and infrared light. 

"The need to protect against these factors has been increasingly recognised. As consumers, we want to combat any factors that may lead to unwanted pigmentation, wrinkling, and skin cancers."

What's the go with our computers, laptops and mobile phones?

To quickly breakdown what the heck is happening: So far we know blue light from the sun can cause damage to our skin, but do we have to worry about our laptops, smartphones and other electronic devices? Should we be minimising our screen time?

Okay, give it to us straight, Dr A! 

"Despite what we may read, the jury is definitely still out on this. The answer is 'possibly'. Further research needs to be undertaken to confirm the effects of visible light emissions from devices on our skin. Just as we see with sun exposure, changes from visible light are likely to be cumulative. So, understanding how much visible light is too much will be really useful," said Dr Armour.


But how much exposure is too much? 

*Nervously waits*

"There is a wide range of visible light emissions from mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, and between brands," said Dr Armour. "Unpublished data presented in a symposium at the World Congress of Dermatology in Milan in 2019, suggested that you would need to spend 150 hours continuously in front of a device to receive enough exposure to visible light to cause pigmentation."

No 150 hour Netflix binges then.

So, does all this blue light-targeting skincare actually work?

"If this skincare contains adequate amounts of blue light-blocking iron oxides, then the answer is yes," said Dr Armour. 

From here, things get a bit sciency.

Dr Armour adds that a recent study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that products containing iron oxide (FeO) protect the skin from VIS-induced pigmentation better than a mineral SPF50+ sunscreen containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

"Since VIS in combination with infrared light has been shown to generate reactive oxygen species in the skin, it makes sense that using antioxidants may be protective. However, a lot more research is needed to confirm which antioxidants will be effective in achieving these ends."

Wait, don't go! What ingredients should we look for?

"Skincare and sunscreens containing iron oxides (FeO)," said Dr Armour. "FeO is the main pigment in foundations and tinted moisturisers. However, there is no current standard to show how well a given foundation absorbs visible light. Foundation is definitely better than nothing, but I’d stick to sun protection products containing FeO until this area is better understood."

"Given that the benefits of antioxidants are well understood, look for antioxidants that are proven to combat pigmentation and protect collagen, in your skincare. My favourites are niacinamide, astaxanthin, resveratrol, ferulic acid, liquorice root extract, and vitamin C."

Okay, so look for products containing iron oxide (FeO) and antioxidants. Got it.

If you're confused about where to start, check out Bespoke Skin Technology's Active Combat Stick, $65 - it contains zinc oxide (to protect against UVA+UVB), iron oxide to protect against visible light and resveratrol (a potent antioxidant). Plus, Dr Armour made it - so you know it's legit.

Feature image: Getty

What do you do to try to limit your blue light exposure? Share with us in the comment section below.