The Ultimate Guide: The Effects of Blue Light + Why It Matters
We all know spending lots of time around technology in our modern-day world poses risks. You’ve probably come across this statement: the effects of blue light can be disruptive to the state of your skin. But there’s more to the bigger picture than how blue light affects your skin.
The average American spends 44 years of their life looking at a screen – so this matters for everyone.1
And while many skincare companies are touting that their products protect against blue light exposure, we wanted to zoom out. It’s essential to take a high-level look at the blue light effects on skin – good and bad – and how they work with or against your body to achieve optimal health. Because we believe skin health is a reflection of your overall health!
We dug into some research on the topic ourselves but were lucky enough to also snag a chat with Andy Mant, founder of Bon Charge (formerly BLUBlox). He’s spent years researching the science of light and has a wealth of experience and knowledge when it comes to blue light – the perfect person for reliable information.
Our time with him revealed so many fascinating details about the effects of blue light – beyond just your skin.
An Introduction to Blue Light
You’re probably aware that blue light comes from your phone, computer, and electronic devices. Which begs the question: is blue light protection necessary? In short, yes. But first, let’s take a look at:
- What blue light is
- Where it originates
- The role it plays in your body
Let’s get into it.
Where Does Blue Light Come From?
Usually, when people are talking about blue light, a part of the conversation is left out: the original source of blue light is the sun! It’s part of the “full-spectrum” light the sun produces. In fact, blue wavelengths are the reason we have a beautiful blue sky. The wavelengths collide with atmospheric molecules to create the blue hue we’ve all grown to love.2
But there’s also an artificial form of blue light, which you’ll find in anything with an LED, like your:
- Phone screen
- House lights
- TV or Ipad
- Appliance lights
Almost all your electrical appliances emit artificial blue light. Let’s get into the distinction between original and artificial blue light and how they affect you.
What’s the Difference Between Natural Light and Artificial Blue Light?
Andy was quick to cite the difference between natural and artificial blue light before we even asked. The main difference is the unbalanced quantity of blue light being expelled from artificial lights.
Similar to our conversation about sunscreens being unbalanced with UVB/UVA protection, it’s not the blue light that’s inherently bad in artificial light – it's the proportion.
Natural light (aka sunshine) emits full-spectrum light, which includes a unique balance of blue, red, green, purple, etc. And as Andy pointed out, each light impacts you differently. When the blue light is balanced within the full spectrum, your body can absorb the benefits without an imbalance of adverse side effects.
Why Did the Use of Blue Light Increase Drastically?
Aside from the obvious uptick in technology and screentime, Andy attributes the excessive blue light exposure to two things:
“Incandescent light bulbs (prior to the 1990s) emitted very energy-hungry orange-yellow-red lights. Because those are long wavelengths, they store more energy. So while tackling global warming concerns (in terms of energy consumption), they stripped out all the red light and just left blue light in the light bulbs.”
On top of cutting out red light, Andy told us manufacturers stopped using direct currents in lighting and started using alternating electrical currents to save energy. But it’s problematic for us because alternating currents are sent in millisecond bursts that cause a flickering effect.
When we asked Andy what flickering was, he said it was really a whole different topic.
But what you need to know:
“Most all standard lightbulbs are flickering lights (but indistinguishable to the naked eye). The millisecond bursts require our brain to work harder to piece together our vision – resulting in migraines, eye fatigue, digital strain, and even a type of epilepsy.”
P.S. If you’re curious about whether your lightbulbs have a flicker, record a slow-motion video on your phone and play it back. If your bulb is using alternating currents, you’ll clearly see a flicker effect.
So artificial lights aren’t harmful just because of the blue light. It’s also the flicker that could be causing many of the typical “symptoms” from too much screen time. And as you can imagine, without the education and energy-efficient options being pushed, we’ve begun absorbing unnatural amounts of blue light over the last couple of decades.
Benefits of Blue Light Exposure
Surprised? No one talks about the benefits, but blue light isn’t inherently harmful to your health.
In fact, blue light plays a vital role in your body’s circadian rhythms. It’s responsible for:
- Increased cortisol to keep you alert and awake during the day
- Serotonin production in your gut to create melatonin for sleep + general well-being
- Stimulation of dopamine which helps with regulating mood
- Cognitive function and memory3
It’s gotten a terrible rep, but we actually need blue light exposure – it’s critical for our bodily processes. It’s more about the context. Once the exposure becomes excessive (or at the wrong time of day), that’s when negative side effects can happen.
Negative Side Effects of Blue Light Exposure
You’re probably already familiar with the negative side effects. But we wanted to give you a well-rounded approach to why too much exposure to artificial blue light is harmful for you.
Why Is Artificial Blue Light Bad for You?This quote says it all:
Meaning your body will absorb any blue light it encounters – even if it’s time to wind down, produce melatonin, or sleep. Your body can’t tell the difference, so it stimulates all the “daytime” processes that keep you awake. And you can’t stay awake forever. It’s a recipe for disaster when you multiply it by years on end, messing up your circadian rhythm.
How Blue Light Affects Your Sleep
Similar to face fillers, it’s a relatively new progression in society, so it’s hard to know precisely the long-term effects. But with the information we have, they can’t be good.
In Andy’s qualified opinion, based on years of research, blue light effects on sleep are detrimental. He believes you should see no blue light leading up to sleep (1-2 hrs, even 3).
Many studies confirmed this, and even the sleep foundation4 readily states that exposure to artificial blue light disrupts melatonin production and, ultimately, our circadian rhythms.
Andy had a wise nugget of information here on why just limiting blue light isn’t the answer:
“The brain doesn’t care if it sees 1% of blue/green light in that range or 100% light in that range – it will still suppress melatonin production and disrupt your sleep.”
One study showed those who struggled with insomnia discovered significant improvements just by wearing amber blue-light-block glasses a few hours before bed.5
After all, we know sleep is crucial for our well-being – and like many things, it has a trickle effect. Lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalances, which directly impacts your skin health. Without proper sleep, our whole-body health suffers.
Blue Light Effects on Skin
After years of studying the properties of light, Andy confirms the common notion that blue light’s effects on skin aren't good:
“Blue light causes cellular damage – to our skin cells in particular.”
And studies continue to show that prolonged exposure to high-energy blue light can increase your risk of:6
- DNA damage
- Cell and tissue death
- Skin barrier damage
Too much blue light can affect your whole-body health in severe ways. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a natural balance in your intake of blue light.
Other Health Concerns Stemming From Blue Light Exposure
Aside from the blue light effects we’ve discussed, excessive artificial blue light exposure can cause:3
- Eye damage, specifically to the retina
- Accelerated macular degeneration, which can lead to vision loss
Multiple resources also link excessive exposure to depression, insomnia, and migraines.5
How to Limit the Impact of Blue Light
Because technology (and light) are so woven into our culture, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with some easy tips, plus habits you can slowly build for optimal health. One step at a time!
First things first: Let’s bust some myths about how to prevent the impact of blue light.
5 Myths Busted: Blue Light Protection
- Sunscreen application doesn’t help with blue light because it’s designed to block UVA/UVB rays, which are different from blue light.
- Dimming apps on your computer are hardly doing anything, according to Andy. He’s spent plenty of time looking at the science. He says that he’s even tested them with a spectrophotometer in his lab, and they don’t block blue light – they just filter it down.
- Night mode is still not good for your eyes because we really shouldn’t have any amount of blue light exposure after sunset, if possible. And your phone is still emitting blue light on night mode. (For a how-to, check out this blog, where he shows you how to switch your phone to red light only after sunset. Our Founder, Bethany, implemented this feature on her phone over a year ago and swears by it!))
- Pills/supplements can’t protect you from blue light exposure. These are a load of nonsense, according to Andy. (We have to agree here – a magic pill seems too good to be true, though there are other ways to supplement your body to support against overexposure.)
- A dimmer (or less bright) bulb isn’t emitting less blue light – when we asked Andy about this, his response was:
Limit Your Exposure to Artificial Lights
While it can feel like a huge mountain to climb, Andy reassured us that there are plenty of practical steps you can take to limit exposure and reduce the detrimental impact of blue light.
All you have to do is refer back to ancestral wisdom:
“You’ve got to think: what would our ancestors have seen light-wise after sunset? (And you can’t count the moon and sun because they’re so low lux that they don’t impact daily rhythms – they only impact monthly rhythms.) So what would they have seen? They’d see campfires. If you spectrum test fire light, it’s red and orange. So those are the colors you want to be seeing after sunset to keep your health optimal when it comes to circadian biology and skin health.”
– Andy Mant
Even though we haven’t experienced life as our ancestors did, we have plenty of information to piece it together. Like skin health, it’s a tried and true way to get back to our roots + simplify.
Here are some great ideas Andy had for limiting exposure:
- Take regular breaks outside to absorb the balanced spectrum of natural light
- Power down all your devices 1-2 hrs before bed and read under red light
- Invest in protective items like blue light glasses
- Sleep with an eye mask if there are lights outside your window
- Turn your phone on night mode during the day to limit the consequences of blue light
- Limit your skin's exposure to blue light at night (not just your eyes)
A bit more complex, but Andy also recommends investing in circadian-friendly lighting for your house that:
→ Doesn’t flicker
→ Doesn’t emit high amounts of EMF
→ Emits lower blue lights without spikes during the day
Andy also recommends you use only pure red lights after sunset to limit your exposure to blue light.
P.S. Check out Bon Charge’s circadian-friendly lighting here. And don’t forget to look into blue light-blocking glasses to protect your health, especially at night.
Blue Light Glasses: How They Work + Which Ones Are Right for You
Andy pointed out that many companies don’t do the proper scientific research. They’ll sell one pair of glasses for all blue light protection, but it’s not that simple if you want to reduce the consequences of blue light properly:
“The needs of light for humans change throughout the day and into the night. So you need to filter blue light during the day, not block it. And you need to block it after sunset. And then during the day, it depends how sensitive someone could be to blue light.”
– Andy Mant
He also adds that it’s crucial to check if your blue light glasses focus on the exact frequency of light you should filter + block. An easy way to do this is to choose a brand backed by science that provides spectrum reports.
Andy’s company, Bon Charge (formerly BLUBlox), has three different kinds of blue glasses to reduce the effects of blue light:
1. Computer glasses – a clear lens that filters 5-30% of blue light.
- Helps alleviate digital eye strain, dry eyes, and headaches during the day.
2. Light sensitivity glasses – a yellow lens for people sensitive to bright light.
- Controlling light sensitivity can prevent migraines, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and intense headaches/fatigue.
- A yellow lens will specifically block the distinct light band that triggers light-sensitivity symptoms.
3. Blue light blocking glasses – A red/amber lens that blocks 100% of blue light.
- The most optimal to wear if you’re only going to have one pair.
- Should be worn 2-3 hrs before bedtime.
- Mimics what your ancestors would’ve seen after sunset – without having to give up watching TV or cooking under artificial light.
It’s essential to find the glasses that suit you and your lifestyle to protect you from too much blue light.
Nourish Your Body With Restorative Supplements, Products, + Treatments
It’s best to assist your body with skin cell repair before and after exposure to blue light. Here are a few suggestions to get your wheels turning.
Red Light Therapy Devices to Restore Cellular Damage
When we asked Andy his thoughts on red light therapy devices to support our skin from excessive blue light exposure, he was all about it! If you’re wondering how to reverse blue light damage on skin, he said red light is an excellent way to restore cellular damage caused by blue light.
As he explained why it works, he said it’s basically putting back in what the manufacturers have taken out of our lights.
He went on to explain that red light works in a completely opposite way from blue light:
→ Blue light is a very short light. Its high-density energy-containing light causes cellular damage.
→ Red light is very energy-dense, but it’s spread out more, so it’s more calming and soothing.
“Red light has been shown in thousands of studies to increase cellular respiration and cellular energy. So it’s really fascinating how it interacts on a cellular level to rejuvenate skin and rejuvenate cells.”
– Andy Mant
Skincare Products With Nutrients to Support Optimal Skin Health
As Andy pointed out, inevitably, there’ll be some damage from the effects of blue light. So you want to invest in products to regenerate the skin afterward. But in terms of having a product that’ll stop the blue light by applying it to the skin, Andy doesn’t think that’s possible.
He made a fascinating point though: you wouldn’t want to completely block blue light anyway because you’d interfere with photoreceptors in your skin which could cause further issues with your circadian rhythms.
His advice was to support your skin health with nutrient-dense products:
“If you want to increase skin health, there are obviously tons of products out there that can help with that. For example, I know the ones at Primally Pure are fantastic. My wife uses them all the time and swears by them.”
(No, we didn’t ask him to say this! *Blushing*)
Astaxanthin Supplements to Protect + Prep the Skin
At Primally Pure, we love astaxanthin. Its powerful antioxidant properties protect your cells from free radicals and oxidative stress.
Just look at these health benefits:7
- Ability to neutralize reactive oxygen
- Immune system support
- Reduces inflammation
- Protects from UV damage
- Supports cognitive health
- Improves heart health
Blue light aside, astaxanthin is a gold mine of health for your body.
A Diet With Whole Foods Full of Antioxidants = Healthy Cells
With years of non-toxic living experience and research under our belts, we know how whole-body health can bless anyone who puts their mind to it. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants as part of a balanced diet supports cellular repair and healthy function of your body’s self-healing capabilities.
When we mentioned this to Andy, he agreed antioxidants are essential and added:
“And from a light perspective, the way you do that is to increase the production of the antioxidant melatonin. Melatonin can help reduce reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress in the body and skin cells. And by managing light correctly, you’ll intensify that effect.”
So, it’s crucial for you to get your antioxidant levels up to ensure your body is working the way it should be.
Limit Your Blue Light Exposure
Our conclusion after talking to Andy and learning more about blue light? We find a common theme: moderation.
Like everything else, when it comes to managing your health, take it day by day – one choice at a time, one habit at a time. You don’t have to change everything immediately. Just understanding the effects of blue light is a massive step in the right direction.
Find bio-hacks you can work into your routine and slowly build them into habits. You can limit your exposure to blue light and reduce the effects of blue light starting now.
This quote from Andy summed it up perfectly:
“Technology is awesome, the modern day world is awesome, but there’s also a lot of negatives (just like there would have been a lot of negatives to living in paleolithic times). You don’t have to give up your technology, you just have to manage it in relation to ancestral principles, and then you can have the best of both worlds.”
Knowledge is power. Here’s to the best of both worlds, friends.
- Vision Direct | How Much Time Do We Spend Looking at Screens?
- Eyewise Opticians | How Many Hours a Day Do You Spend in Front of a Digital Device?
- Blue Light Exposed
- Sleep Foundation | How Blue Light Affects Sleep
- National Library of Medicine | Blocking Nocturnal Blue Light for Insomnia: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- National Library of Medicine | Blue Light Protection, Part I-Effects of Blue Light on the Skin
- Web MD | Health Benefits of Astaxanthin
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