I have never washed my face and gotten into bed without engaging in some type of technology first. Whether it’s my Kindle, an ASMR video on my laptop, or scrolling for an hour on Pinterest (my doom-scroll app of choice), I sit deep in the blue light of my screens with absolutely no protection. And I was starting to wonder: Should I be wearing sunscreen to bed to avoid blue light skin damage?
We already know why it’s important to wear sunscreen, but there might be another lurking reason to fully convince us. Just because you’re not basking in the sunshine with a Mai Tai doesn’t mean your skin doesn’t need protection. But does the impending damage of blue light extend to what it emits from our computer and phone (and tablet and e-reader and TV) screens? And what exactly is the potential damage we’re talking here? We investigated.
What is Blue Light?
Before we get into what blue light does or does not do, we should probably figure out what it even is. Before the boom of blue light glasses, I had absolutely no idea what blue light even was let alone was worried about how it could be affecting my health and skin. “Blue light is the spectrum of visible light that has the wavelength from 500 to 600 nanometers,” said dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare Dr. Loretta Ciraldo. “The three most common sources of blue light are the sun, digital screens, and skin treatment devices.”
There hasn’t been much research on blue light’s effect on skin yet, but scientists are starting to take note, considering more blue light is emitted from the sun than UVA and UVB rays combined, Dr. Ciraldo explained. Blue light has been studied as a treatment for acne, as it kills bacteria on the skin associated with acne, as well as for its effect on eye health (hence the importance of blue light glasses when you’re in front of a screen all day).
How Does Blue Light Affect Skin?
From the studies we do have, we know that blue light can have an impact on skin, largely on those with melanated skin or dark spots. One study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that when human volunteers were exposed to blue light and UVA in the same proportions as what we get from the sun, blue light caused more redness, swelling, and hyperpigmentation, but only in the subjects with deeper skin tones.
There was another study done in 2018 that found that when skin cells in controlled conditions were exposed to blue light, it activated enzymes that broke down collagen. Because of this, we can assume long-term exposure to blue light could lead to quicker wrinkling since we know loss of collagen can cause fine lines and wrinkles.
“There aren’t enough studies into the effects of blue light from our digital devices to know how much we can tolerate before it becomes hazardous, but it is safest to protect yourself from blue light by wearing blue light-filtering eyeglasses and skincare when you will be in front of the computer or in the sun for any extended period,” Dr. Ciraldo said.
How to Protect Against Blue Light Damage
Sunscreen is an obvious first choice, but not all sunscreens protect us against blue light like UVA and UVB. “Physical blockers with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide help reflect light rays to offer broad protection against UV and high-energy visible light,” said Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, functional medicine doctor and certified nutrition consultant. Iron oxide is also a good physical blocker that reflects visible light, including blue light.
Dr. Ciraldo's namesake skincare line puts an emphasis on blue light-blocking skincare, including this sunscreen that contains Indian Ginseng, also known as ashwaghanda. Extensive research suggests this ingredient protects against the harmful effects of HEV blue light, including cellular damage.
But I really wanted to know: To get the maximum protection against blue light, could I apply sunscreen at the end of my nighttime skincare routine? Jose Mier, founder of the Heliotherapy Research Institute, which conducts investigative and informational research on light therapy, finally gave me my answer. “It is not imperative to apply sunscreen before bed, but if you want to protect your skin cells from oxidative stress, you can apply sunscreen to areas with the most exposure to blue light,” Mier said. “There are no drawbacks to using sunscreen before sleeping.” While this doesn’t need to be your new norm, it doesn’t hurt—actually, a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide might actually have some skincare benefits on its own, such as soothing and reducing acne and adding moisture.
Dr. Petrucci also recommended incorporating an antioxidant into your routine to boost your blue light protection. “When you’re awake, getting into a work-from-home groove, or you’re on your phone before bed, it’s important to load up on antioxidant skincare,” she said. “Vitamin C, as well as licochalcone A and glycyrrhetinic acid, have been shown to work together to protect skin cells from blue light damage in the deeper epidermal layers.”
How Can We Avoid Blue Light Damage?
Dr. Ciraldo, Dr. Petrucci, and Mier agreed: Do what you can to limit your screen time. Of course, many of us work from our computers all day long and have obligations that require us to be in front of a screen, but at night when you’re not working, try to limit it. Dr. Ciraldo suggested setting your Apple devices to night shift or purchasing a blue light filter screen for non-Apple devices to cut down on the blue light when you have to be on the computer.
And of course, always make sure you’re wearing sunscreen every day—particularly a sunscreen that will block blue light from the sun and the screens.