Is Blue Light the Next Frontier of Anti-Aging?

Emitted by the sun, digital screens, even indoor lighting, blue light (also known as High Energy Visible Light) is the most ubiquitous of all rays. Changing consumer lifestyles due to the pandemic means more time in front of screens than ever before, and while UVA/UVB rays were long considered the culprits of premature skin aging, new research (and products) are now tackling those also distributed by our electronic devices.

Blue light’s positive effects include elevated mood and cognitive function, as well as acne reduction when used in a clinical setting, but exposure can also result in skin moisture and elasticity loss, production of free radicals, as well as pigmentation, to name a few. “Most of the existing blue light research is derived from sunlight and we do not know enough about the blue light from devices. However, we are all on our devices more, and now that so many people work from home and do remote learning, our exposure continues to increase,” states dermatologist Dr. Nazanin Saedi.

60% of people spend a surplus of 6 hours in front of a screen, with a computer-focused workweek equating to 25 minutes of unprotected mid-day sun exposure. The biggest source of blue light isn’t actually our screens, but the sun. However, that screen time does accumulate, and most consumers were previously less diligent with sun protection indoors than outdoors. Blue light has a wavelength of 380-500 nanometers, UVA 315-400nm, and UVB 280-315nm, meaning that unlike its UV counterparts, the aforementioned variety penetrates all the way into the subcutis layer of the skin, even if its effects aren’t immediately visible like those of the UVB group.

Increased exposure has been linked to everything from higher stress levels and inflammation to circadian rhythm disruption—not just in our bodies, but also in our skin cells, slowing down their self-renewal rates, according to a study by Estée Lauder Companies—so these effects extend beyond our epidermis. Research by OSU College of Science found that flies exposed to blue LED light for 12 hours a day exhibited a shorter life span, as well as damage to their retinal cells and brain neurons. Although there are no findings to suggest that these effects directly translate to the human race, experts have long been warning of the detrimental effects of prolonged and excessive blue light on eye health.

In the cosmetic realm, mineral protectants zinc oxide, iron oxide, and titanium dioxide, plus antioxidants like Vitamin C, B6, and niacinamide, have been shown to aid blue light-afflicted skin. Chief Operating Officer of sun and skin care developer SolésenceKevin Cureton, also points to plant-based ingredients like lutein and rutin as another form of defense. “What the botanicals and minerals tend to have is a broader wavelength spectrum over which they function, whereas some of the chemical sunscreens are more narrowly focused,” he explains. “That’s one of the advantages of zinc oxide, it functions in UVA, UVB, and blue light. Antioxidants are useful, but some are better than others because they are affected by light as well. Their photostability is important because if they’re compromised by light then they are not able to do their job which is mop up the free radicals.”

The product development market is catering to the growing consumer desire for protection. “The search for blue light skincare products is growing by 55% year-on-year,” reveals Yarden Horwitz, the co-founder of machine intelligence platform Spate. Blue light-blocking skincare and makeup sales increased by 170% and 179% respectively in this year alone. The Anti-Pollution Research Center in Amorepacific R&D Center debuted the first device that can evaluate blue light blocking in September 2020, while the blue light glasses market is expected to reach a worth of $38MM by 2026, with screen filters also looking to exponentially grow in sales volume. Goodhabit is an entire skincare range infused with Blu5 technology, a marine active extract that claims to filter blue light. Chantecaille recently launched a Blue Light Protection Hyaluronic Serum infused with nine protective botanicals. Stacia Prince, International Buying Director at Cult Beauty, notes “a lift in searches. Anti-blue light technology is a key selling point of new products.”

Millennials appear to be the biggest customers for this product category. “We have a hypothesis that younger consumers are more aware of blue light’s negative effects on skin, and likely to search for products to protect against blue light damage,” states Kay Seiden, Associate Marketing Director at Colorescience. “Since 2018, our largest increase is in the 25-34-year-old group: up from 12.5% in 2018 to 17.4% in 2020.” In response to this demand, the brand launched six Total Protection products this year, which feature EnviroScreen Technology that offers protection against UVA/UVB, blue light, and infrared rays, as well as pollution.

This discerning approach to blue light exposure, and the sophisticated formulations born out of it, are set to advance in the coming years. “All of the launches that we are sending out or planning with our brand partners for 2021 have a blue light protection claim,” Cureton says. “In the future, you’ll see more sophisticated references to the impact of blue light and the whole conversation about layering for overall protection continuing. Complexity in a single product will also increase, like trying to offer 7 different levels of protection from environmental aggressors, while also having therapeutic benefits to improving overall skin health. That trend is continuing and I would expect it to continue for some time.”

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