If you’re reading this, it’s too late.
Unless you’re wearing glasses and serums expressly engineered to block them, millions of tiny particles of high-energy visible (HEV) light have already travelled from the screen of your phone, tablet, or laptop down to the deepest level of your skin, where they are already beginning to work their opposite-of-magic, decomposing the collagen and elastin necessary to ward off wrinkles and keep things firm and lifted.
The degree to which this matters depends on the amount of time you’re spending under HEV’s cool blue gaze—and your level of buy-in to the consumerist vs patriarchal arms race designed to keep you in hot pursuit of the face of a 24-year-old until the day you die.
But HEV (street name—blue light) isn’t just a hazard to vanity. Along with its ability to give you crows’ feet from mainlining Twitter while the world burns, scientists have long warned of blue light’s negative impact on everything from mood to sleep to eyesight.
At the risk of a few more rays, allow us to explain just what blue light is, why it’s harmful, and how you can protect yourself from this distinctly modern malaise.
A blue-light primer
Just like your physics professor said, light rays come in different colours, with each wave frequency corresponding to a colour, and each colour carrying its own effects. Our phone, laptop and tablet screens emit blue light, which has been shown to have a negative impact on sleep, skin and mood.
The why, in a word, is hormones. The waxing and waning of hormones such as cortisol are meant to generate a circadian rhythm that gives us energy during the day and helps us wind down at night. But a specific strain of blue light in the range of 420 to 480 nanometers found in artificial devices such as phones disrupts natural cortisol cycles, depressing our energy during the day and amping us up at night.
Blue light also has the ability to penetrate deep into our skin, triggering free radicals and inflammation to generate hyperpigmentation and age spots. Some studies also suggest that blue light damages a molecule in the eye called the retinal, setting off a chemical reaction that may be toxic to the retina’s cells.
While a rigorous digital detox might be the most organic way to soothe your circadian rhythm back into its optimal state, an array of products have made their way to market for those who simply can’t (or won’t) step away from their screens.
Perhaps the most effective bulwark against the effects of blue light are blue light-blocking glasses. Options abound, but perhaps the most famous are BLUblox glasses, which are engineered in Australia as an optical sunscreen of sorts against HEV.
BLUblox frames come in an array of personalities, from a boxy black starchitect’s intern option to a pair of slouchy-chic Bianca-Jagger-on-a-horse aviators. Three lenses can be put into any of the frames: the clears address eye strain and headaches, yellows do all that plus help regulate mood, in part by using colour therapy, and the lenses on the blues physically block the strains of HEV that have been shown to disrupt melatonin and sleep.
BLUblox founder Andy Mant developed BLUblox after sleep issues led him deep into the academic literature on melatonin, where he learned that HEV light disrupts melatonin production, inhibits sleep and renders us holistically unwell. “Every biological process in our bodies, from how we digest food to how we feel, all comes down to the type of light we choose to live under,” Mant tells Vogue.
“We have created hundreds of artificial suns in our smartphones, TVs, house lights, car lights and appliances,” Mant continues, which disrupts our natural circadian cycle. So in addition to wearing protective glasses, he recommends focusing on integrating the actual sun back into our lives. “Watching the sunrise is the best entrainer of circadian rhythms and also helps boost serotonin and dopamine. Three to five sun breaks outdoors every day can keep our hormones optimal and balanced.”
Sun cream and serums
Then, of course, there’s the matter of your skin. If the ageing effects of blue light concern you and you don’t want to risk exposing your skin to the potentially ageing effects of natural sunlight, then you’ll need more than a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.
HEV acts like UVA and UVB rays, penetrating to an even deeper layer of dermis beyond the eye area to decompose collagen, increase pigment production, and even generate flares of melasma. (Fortunately, HEV doesn’t mutate DNA, and therefore doesn’t pose a cancer risk.)
Also fortunately, HEV sunscreen of sorts is newly available via numerous skincare lines, from Royal Fern to Susanne Kaufmann. According to Manhattan-based dermatologist Dr Jessica Weiser, sunscreen with iron oxides can work to protect against blue light, as can the addition of botanical agents like marine algae, sustainably sourced cacao, and plankton extract to skincare products. “You should apply antioxidants at least every morning to prevent oxidative damage,” Weiser tells Vogue. “Since you can’t avoid screens in this technological climate, you have to be proactive to avoid the potential damage they can cause.”
Serums are another option. Annee de Mamiel, a singular multi-hyphenate who started her career in finance, left to sail the literal globe in the Round the World Yacht Race before turning her attention to clean beauty after chemotherapy ravaged her skin. “Too much blue light causes slow but serious degradation to our skin’s structure,” says de Mamiel, who now holds a degree in anatomy physiology, and meditates over each bottle of her eponymous skincare line before it leaves her farm in England. “Our Intense Nurture Antioxidant Elixir is formulated with quercetin to protect against oxidative stress,” she tells me, “along with malachite, which removes impurities and pollutants from the skin.”
Other serums on the market include African Botanics’ Infusion Micro-Liquid Serum, which includes marine biochemistry and African adaptogenic medicine to protect against HEV, and Susanne Kaufmann’s Pollution Skin Defence System, which delivers a cocktail of antioxidants to ward off HEV, including Ectoin, Q10, and vitamin C. Chantecaille’s Blue Light Protection Hyaluronic Serum is a hyaluronic hydrator that claims to soothe and shield the skin from the visible effects of blue light pollution using fermented and Nasturium fllower extracts to revitalise fatigued skin and decrease the appearance of brown spots.
So as it turns out, it’s not quite too late. Just like its UVA/B counterparts, HEV-bathing can itself be downright pleasurable, and a sunny pair of aviators and some malachite can help protect your mood, your sleep and your skin as you click about the digisphere, trying to get from where we are to wherever it is we’re going.