How does blue light affect the skin?
Blue light can often be seen as a bad thing – an evil force emerging from our phone screens to ruin our sleep and damage our eyes.
However, it isn’t as clean cut as that; beauty therapists will know that blue light can actually be a key part of certain skin treatments for conditions like acne.
So, is blue light really as bad as it seems, or is it just misunderstood?
To clear up the blue light debate, we found out what it actually is and how it affects the skin.
What is blue light?
Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum – the part of the electromagnetic spectrum which the human eye can see. Non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum include X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet (UV).
While the human eye perceives visible light as one colour, it’s actually made up of a range of colours – something we can see when visible light travels through a prism.
“Blue light is a high-energy, high-frequency component of the natural light spectrum, with a wavelength between 400 and 500 nanometres (nm),” explains Lorraine Perretta, head of nutrition at supplements brand Advanced Nutrition Programme.
“The majority of blue light comes from the sun – up to 30% of sunlight is composed of blue light, whereas UV only makes up about 5% of sunlight”, Perretta adds.
Blue light can also come from artificial sources. It’s emitted from the screens of electronic devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets, as well as from some light sources like LEDs and fluorescent light bulbs.
While these sources emit all colours of visible light, almost one-third of this visible light is blue light.
Electronic devices and artificial light sources are an ever-present part of modern life, and it’s completely normal for many people to spend an entire day sat in front of a computer screen or scrolling on their phone – so it’s no surprise that research has been done into how blue light can affect the human body.
In the last decade, there’s been a lot of conversation around reducing exposure to blue light before bedtime to improve sleep.
Blue light can suppress the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness which forms an important part of our circadian rhythm (our internal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle).
There’s also been research into how long-term exposure to blue light can impact skin health.
Is blue light bad for your skin?
Blue light has a short wavelength, meaning that it’s high energy; blue light is also commonly known as HEV light, or high-energy visible light.
The high-energy emission from blue light means that it can penetrate deeper into the skin’s layers – visible light can even penetrate deeper than UV light.
Once it reaches the dermis, blue light can cause cell damage. “Blue light has been shown to impact skin structures including fibroblasts, keratinocytes, melanocytes, and the protective lipid layer,” explains Perretta.
“Fibroblasts and keratinocytes are two of the most abundant cell types present in the skin. They secrete collagen proteins that help maintain the structural framework of tissues.
“Blue light damages these skin cells, which results in the lines and wrinkles forming and accelerating skin ageing.”
Perretta continues, “Melanocytes are another type of skin cell targeted by blue light. Melanocytes are a cell in the skin that produces and contains the pigment called melanin. When they are damaged, they cause discolouration, pigmentation, and brown spots.
“Furthermore, blue light damages the lipid layers between skin cells. When the lipid layers are damaged, it compromises the skin barrier function, causing skin to be red, reactive, and sensitive.
“The ageing impact of blue light may be even more powerful than UVA and UVB rays found in sunlight because it penetrates deeper into the dermis.
“Research suggests free radical-induced damage from blue light takes place deep in the skin, potentially causing longer term, structural damage and more visible impacts.
“Pigmentation caused by blue light is thought to be darker and harder to reverse than UV-induced pigmentation, although the mechanism causing this remains unknown.”
Blue light in beauty treatments
This all sounds rather scary, and you might be wondering why blue light is so common in beauty treatments if it can have negative effects on the skin – but there is a difference in the blue light emitted from the sun or devices and the blue light used in professional beauty treatments.
“A professional beauty device emits a lesser strength of blue light”, says Jane Saint, national trainer for +maskology.
“In regard to the type of blue light we use for beauty and aesthetic skin treatments, it is harnessed and administered safely. We have the ability to monitor and adjust the amount of blue light we are exposing the skin to,” adds Corine Treacy, regional nurse trainer for Sk:n clinics.
“The major difference between the two would be that in treatments we are able to control and adjust the amount of blue light administered into the skin. Like many different light-therapy-based treatments, the light is delivered in a controlled manner and is targeted to a specific area of the skin.
“We can also deliver light into the skin in pulses. In between each pulse, we allow the skin time to cool down before we administer more light – so we are not exposing the skin to unlimited amounts of light”.
So, the point of difference that makes the blue light used in professional beauty treatments safe is that it’s used at low exposure for short periods of time, minimising the risks and maximising the benefits.
What are the benefits of blue light?
Treacy says that blue light can be used in a number of professional treatments, such as high frequency, LED light therapy, Isolaz and IPL.
The blue light used in light therapy is much less intense than blue light from the sun and devices, so it doesn’t penetrate as deeply.
This means that it can be used to treat conditions on or near the skin’s surface – it’s most commonly used to treat acne.
“Blue light has antibacterial properties,” explains Sharon Hilditch, skincare expert and founder of Crystal Clear Skincare. “This means that it can help to reduce the spread of bacteria on the skin, which helps to prevent future breakouts from occurring.
“By killing off bacteria on the surface of the skin, blue light can help keep your client’s complexion looking clear and healthy.”
Hilditch says that blue light therapy can also boost collagen production as well as having anti-inflammatory actions.
“Thanks to blue light’s anti-inflammatory benefits, this therapy can ease skin inflammation, reduce the size of oil glands, and even diminish the appearance of acne scars — all while helping to keep the most frustrating acne outbreaks under control,” adds Manisha Khatri, national educator for skincare brand Dibi Milano.
“Blue light therapy uses phototherapy to accelerate the body’s own natural healing process and can effectively and safely treat a range of skin conditions including eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and rosacea.
“UV-free phototherapy has been used for decades in the management of common skin disorders.”
How can you prevent damage from blue light?
While clients can reap the benefits of short-term blue light exposure from professional beauty treatments, they need to be careful to protect themselves from long-term exposure in everyday life.
“Continued exposure to blue light from mobile devices can lead to changes in skin cells that speed up the ageing process. Research has shown that even exposure of just 60 minutes can trigger the changes,” says Saint.
There are a number of easy fixes to reduce exposure to blue light, including putting films or filters on devices and placing them in night or dark mode.
Skincare can also play a role in protecting your clients from blue light damage. As always, SPF use is crucial, and vitamin C can help to protect against damage from free radicals.
Peretta also recommends vitamin E, biotin, lutein, zeaxanthin and olive fruit extract, all components of Advanced Nutrition Programme’s new Skin Blue Filter supplement. “The skin is the largest organ of the body; but it is also a two-sided organ. If you only use topical products, you’re only protecting half the skin,” she explains.
The bottom line
The experts’ conclusion is that blue light can have potential benefits for the skin if it’s used at low levels for short periods of time during professional beauty treatments – but people need to be aware of the risks of not protecting themselves from long-term exposure from natural and artificial sources of blue light.
Do you use blue light in your beauty treatments? Let us know in the comments…