Why your smartphone is damaging your skin

Updated: Apr 12

Smartphones have become a major part of our daily lives. An American survey indicates that on average a person spends more than 10 hours a day staring at some kind of screen (1). Even though they are undeniably useful and they have brought many benefits to our lives, these devices could also have negative impacts on the skin.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops and other LED-based devices emit high levels of visible light (400 – 700 nm), predominantly in the blue color region (400-490 nm) also known as Blue light or High Energy Visible light (HEV) (2). Despite this region of the spectrum is not as harmful as UV light and it is used to treat certain skin conditions with positive effects, some studies have warned about the consequences of long-term and high-dose blue light exposure on the skin.

Researchers reveal that blue light may cause an over-production of melanin (the brown pigment which gives the color to the skin) leading to hyperpigmentation (3) (4). This increase alters pigmentation and promotes uneven skin tone and dark spots. However, not all skin phototypes are equally affected, as these effects showed to be more pronounced in darker skin tones (3).

Blue light can also induce skin damage and accelerate skin aging (2). It penetrates deeper than UV light being able to reach the skin layer where collagen and other structural proteins reside. Studies have demonstrated that HEV promotes reactive oxygen species production which leads to the breakdown of collagen and inhibits new collagen synthesis (5). What this means for your skin is a loss of elasticity and premature wrinkling.

Furthermore, scientists have discovered that the light emitted by smartphones disrupts the circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that coordinates our biological processes. Skin cells also have these light/dark cycles, being more engaged in their protective functions during daytime and working hard on repairing skin damage during the night (6). Using your smartphone before going to bed, not only affects your sleep quality but may also desynchronize your skin cells functions causing damage and accelerating aging (7).

When it comes to prevention, using the “night mode” setting on your smartphone permanently seems to be an effective measure, as it reduces the amount of blue light emitted and gives more yellow light instead. As for skincare, more and more products are coming to the market claiming to have anti-blue light ingredients. However, studies on how blue light affects the skin and how to address it are still ongoing. What scientists know so far is that using a combination of sunscreen and anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E may help to mitigate its effects (2).

(1) CNN health. Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time and growing. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html (Accessed Mar 19, 2020)

(2) Arjmandi, N. et al. Can Light Emitted from Smartphone Screens and Taking Selfies Cause Premature Aging and Wrinkles?. Journal of biomedical physics & engineering. 2018, 8(4), 447–452

(3) Regazzetti, C. et al. Melanocytes Sense Blue Light and Regulate Pigmentation through Opsin-3. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2018, 138 (1), 171 - 178

(4) Randhawa, M. et al. Visible Light Induces Melanogenesis in Human Skin through a Photoadaptive Response. Plos One. 2015. 10 (6)

(5) Liebel, F. et al. Irradiation of Skin with Visible Light Induces Reactive Oxygen Species and Matrix-Degrading Enzymes. J Invest Dermatol. 2012, 132(7): 1901–1907.

(6) Matsui, M. et al. Biological Rhythms in the Skin. International journal of molecular sciences, 2016, 17(6), 801.

(7) Dong, K. et al. Blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm and create damage in skin cells. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2019, 41: 558-562.

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