We already know that smart devices can lead to decidedly 21st-century issues like tech neck and cellphone elbow, but some experts also suggest that they can cause premature aging of your skin. The culprit, they claim, is HEV or high energy visible light, which is naturally occurring but also pours out of the screens of devices like smartphones, computers and tablets.
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A study out of the University hospital of Nice in France found that compared to UVB irradiation, blue-violet light (also known as HEV) created significantly more pronounced hyperpigmentation of the skin that lasted up to three months. Other experts link the blue light from smartphones to sagging skin and photoaging.
“Excessive blue light accelerates the oxidation process, causing hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Howard Murad, a New York-based dermatologist, pharmacist and founder of Murad Skincare, said to Refinery29. “Its oxidative effects elicit inflammation and damage the skin barrier making it more prone to signs of aging, increased uneven skin tone, dullness, pigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles.”
Until recently, the bulk of the focus on HEV’s potential dangers has been on its effects on eyesight and sleep, but now experts are beginning to examine how it could impact skin. (Unlike UVA and UVB rays, however, there is no link between HEV and skin cancer.)
“I recently got back from the American Academy of Dermatology meeting and one of the things that were being discussed there was whether visible light such as HEV or infrared ought to be protected against in sunscreens,” Dr. Andrew Birnie, a dermatologist and skin cancer specialist at the William Harvey and Kent and Canterbury Hospitals, said to The Guardian in June.
But much as you should probably distance yourself from your phone for social and psychological reasons, there’s no definitive proof that it will cause your skin to look older or damaged.
“There’s not a lot of evidence-based medicine to support the claims that deeper wavelengths of HEV (between 400 to 450 nanometres) will have an effect on skin, but that said, I always stress the importance of wearing sunscreen year-round,” Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto-based dermatologist and director of DLK on Avenue, tells Global News. “Anything with titanium dioxide or zinc will be effective in blocking these rays.”
Many don’t realize that light protection is as important to skin health as sun protection is, she says, so they don’t realize that just because they’re not on the beach, it doesn’t mean they can’t damage their skin.
“The principle of light is that it’s reflective. On a bright day in the winter, you can still get reflection of light off the sidewalk or the snow,” she says. “Even on a cloudy day, 70 per cent of UVA rays can come through.”
This is why Kellett is a staunch advocate of wearing sunscreen throughout the year, even if you work predominantly indoors — “People don’t realize that you can get sun and light damage through a window.”
Experts advise wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily that has an SPF of no less than 30, and reapplying it every two hours if you’re out in the sun.