Most concerns regarding premature aging and skin cancer stem from the harmful UV rays of the sun. However, these are not the only rays of visible light that we need to worry about. Blue light has been identified as an additional contributor to skin photoaging. While most research conducted so far has focused on the effects of blue light on the eyes, less is known about its impact on the skin. Learn more here about how it can affect the skin.
Should we protect ourselves against blue light?
What is blue light?
Visible light, which falls within the wavelength range of 400 nm to 700 nm, is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is perceived by the human eye and is responsible for general illumination. It represents approximately 44% of all solar radiation, but is also emitted by anything that produces light: light bulbs, televisions, computers, mobile phones, etc. at levels lower than the radiations of the solar spectrum.
Also known as high-energy visible light, blue light (400 to 500 nm) represents a specific wavelength of the visible white light spectrum. It has less energy than UV radiation (280 to 400 nm) and can penetrate deeper into the dermis. Sunlight is thus the main source of blue light to which we are exposed, but fluorescent and LED bulbs, also emit it at levels lower than solar spectrum radiations.
While it can be used for therapeutic purposes in the treatment of skin conditions (acne, psoriasis, precancerous lesions, atopic dermatitis, etc.), blue light could also induce direct and indirect negative effects on the skin. Indeed, recent studies show that blue light can trigger changes at the skin level and affect the complexion, even with short exposures. For several years now, visible light has thus become an additional factor in photoaging.
It appears that the risk decreases beyond 500 nm.
Effect #1: Blue light can accelerate the aging process.
One of the established effects of blue light on the skin includes oxidative stress. Several studies have demonstrated that the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) in the skin can be rapidly stimulated during exposure to visible light. For instance, it has been shown that irradiating cultured human keratinocytes with 41.35 J/cm2 of blue light at a wavelength of 453 nm results in excessive generation of ROS and RNS after 1 hour. These unstable oxygen molecules can damage cellular structures such as DNA, lipids, and proteins . Indeed, when these molecular structures are damaged, it can contribute to the acceleration of the appearance of signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles. Additionally, irradiating human skin in vivo with blue-violet light of 100 J/cm2 from 380 to 95 nm results in a significant decrease in skin carotenoids, antioxidants naturally present in the skin.
Effect #2: Light can cause skin pigmentation.
One of the most common skin impacts of exposure to blue light isskin hyperpigmentation. The results are clear: blue light is capable of inducing both immediate and persistent pigmentation. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study conducted by R. SCHUETZ on volunteers with phototypes IV to VI revealed that following repetitive irradiation with blue light (single peak at about 450 nm) for four consecutive days with 60 J/cm2 visible changes in skin color parameters were detected.
Researchers have even discovered that exposure to blue light results in more pronounced hyperpigmentation than that caused by UVA rays.
Indeed, a continuous increase in melanin levels following exposure to blue light has been observed. From a mechanistic perspective, it has been demonstrated that blue light would induce the deposition of melanin in skin explants. It has also been revealed that visible light ex vivo is capable of activating melanogenesis by inducing an increase in melanogenesis markers, such as tyrosinase and dopachrome tautomerase.
Effect #3: Blue light can lead to skin inflammation.
A study has established a link between exposure to blue light and increased swelling, redness, and pigmentation changes in individuals with darker skin. Indeed, exposure to blue light can increase the level of inflammation in skin cells. SOUTHALL M. D. and his team have shown that visible light can induce the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1α, TNF-α, IL-8, and IL-6, and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) 2 and 9 in human skin equivalents. However, the influence of blue light on inflammation is controversial as other studies have found no modulation of inflammatory markers in keratinocytes irradiated with blue light between 412 and 453 nm.
However, there are a few ways to protect oneself from the damage caused by the blue light.
BAGER A. & al. An experimental study of the changes in pigmentation in human skin in vivo with visible and near infrared light. Photochemistry and Photobiology (1984).
HAMZAVI I. H. & others. Impact of long-wavelength UVA and visible light on melanin-rich skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2010).
KOLB-BACHOFEN V. & al. Blue-light irradiation regulates proliferation and differentiation in human skin cells. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2010).
DARVIN M. E. & others. Blue-violet light irradiation decreases carotenoids in human skin in a dose-dependent manner, suggesting the production of free radicals. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity (2015).
RUVOLO E. & al. Visible light induces melanogenesis in human skin through a photoadaptive response. PLoS One (2015).
GRETZ N. et al. Gene expression profiling uncovers the aryl hydrocarbon receptor as a potential target for photobiomodulation with the use of blue light. Scientific Reports (2016).
KOLBE L. & al. High-energy visible light at ambient doses and intensities induces oxidative stress in skin—Protective effects of the antioxidant and Nrf2 inducer Licochalcone A in vitro and in vivo. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine (2020).
SCHUETZ R. & al. Effects of Blue Light Irradiation on Skin Pigmentation and Protective Measures Against Them. International Journal of Cosmetic Science (2020).
CASEY A. S. & et al. Blue light and skin health. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (2022).
LIU W. & al. Direct and indirect effects of blue light exposure on skin: A review of published literature. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology (2022).