Are our smartphones causing damage to our skin?

We're spending more time on our devices during lockdown than ever before. But what does that mean for our complexions?

Hair & Beauty

In the age of social distancing, the nation’s smartphone usage has soared. Whether we’re keeping up with coronavirus news, entertaining ourselves or connecting with loved ones, our devices have become a lifeline in these unsettling times.

But there are fears that this spike in screen time is doing little to enrich our wellbeing. Whereas the average pre-pandemic person was spending around three hours and 15 minutes a day on their phone, this has risen for some by as much as 200 per cent. And while most of us are aware that excessive smartphone use can have a detrimental affect on our mental health and brain function, perhaps less well-known is the damage it can pose to our skin.

The blue light emitted from screens is largely responsible. Also known as High Energy Visible Light (HEV), it comes naturally from the sun and has a crucial purpose: to regulate our natural sleep and wake cycles. But in the modern world it’s all around us in artificial form – from our handsets, tablets and laptops to our televisions. Too much exposure can cause macular degeneration, disrupt our sleep cause our skin to age prematurely and, in extreme cases, lead to acne and even eczema.

Experts think HEV light might be just as harmful to the skin as UV rays from the sun. But the bigger problem is that we don’t physically feel any danger, such as redness or burning, when we’ve spent too long looking at a screen.

LA-based dermatologist and skincare brand founder Dr Howard Murad says HEV light is one of the biggest skin aggressors in today’s tech-driven world and warns of the following: “Blue light from screens penetrates the skin more deeply than UV or UVB. Over time, excessive exposure can cause inflammation, hyperpigmentation, dullness, visible skin tone changes and significant cell damage. It can even weaken the skin’s barrier and cause premature ageing.”

Poor sleep can be detrimental to the appearance of the skin. But coupled with prolonged exposure to blue light, it can lead to even more extreme effects like sunken eyes. And this is particularly true if you regularly read your phone in bed in the dark.

According to Dr Baldeep Farmah, founder of Birmingham’s Dr Aesthetica clinic, some millennials are taking drastic measures to counteract hours spent scrolling on Instagram: “There’s a huge rise in young people now requesting tear trough filler following excessive phone use,” he says. “This non-surgical procedure is very effective on sunken eyes and the results last up to 12 months.” Those with high levels of melanin would be forgiven for thinking they aren’t as susceptible to the effects of blue light. After all, darker skins are less likely to burn in the sun. But the risk is just as high: “HEV light is damaging to skin of any colour - it’s not only fairskinned people who need protection,” warns cosmetic doctor Dr Rekha Tailor (healthandaesthetics.co.uk).

Blue light and skin

Daily protection

So, without going cold turkey on your tech time, how can you try to mitigate the damaging effects of blue light? “We would always recommend staying hydrated, not using phones in the dark and taking screen time breaks as preventative measures,” says Dr Farmah.

If considerably reducing your screen time isn’t an option, experts recommend shielding your complexion with a daily SPF - even if you aren’t stepping foot outside: “Nowadays it’s inevitable that people spend a lot of time on their phones, but we can protect our skin against the harmful HEV rays by applying a high factor SPF,” says Tailor.

Dr Murad advises: “Look for products with antioxidants and an SPF to protect the skin from harmful free radical damage.”

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