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The Science of the Spa: Blue light

The new target of sun care and anti-aging products

Even though sun care products are subject to increasingly stringent regulations, analysts predict that the global market for these essential allies will reach the $24.9 billion mark by 2024, mainly thanks to the many innovations that are expected to emerge in the coming years. 

For several decades, the primary concern for researchers had been to improve protection against UVB rays, those responsible for the dreaded sunburn. Then, driven by increasingly alarming studies on the effects of UVA rays, protection against these dangerous rays has become the main focus over the last 10 years. Not only have the regulations been updated to reflect this concern, but consumers have also been sensitized to the importance of using a broad-spectrum sun protection product in order to limit not only the impact of UVB rays but also to limit the effects of UVA rays on the skin. As research continues to progress and our habits evolve, researchers are now turning their focus to the higher wavelengths, particularly blue light wavelengths.

What Is Blue Light?

Blue light, a high-energy visible light, is becoming more and more present in our daily lives. Blue light makes up 30 per cent of the light wavelengths found in sunlight but also, and more importantly, blue light radiates from digital screens and electronic devices (TVs, computers, smart phones, tablets) as well as from fluorescent bulbs and LEDs. Because of the large-scale use of these devices, and due to their growing popularity, we are now more exposed to sources of blue light for longer periods than ever before. And people of all generations are affected. 

Did You Know That…

  • Studies suggest that more than 60 per cent of people spend more than six hours a day in front of a digital device.
  • Some people may even spend 10 hours a day watching screens.
  • 88 per cent of Millennials often use two screens at a time.

Just like colours, blue light is part of the light spectrum that is visible to the human eye. On the spectrum, it is located immediately to the right of UVA wavelengths. It includes wavelengths ranging from 380 to 500 nm, making it part of the group of visible wavelengths with the highest energy.

What Are The Effects Of Blue Light?

Over the long term, blue light is damaging to our eyes. The natural filters of our eyes don’t offer enough protection against the blue light generated by the sun’s rays, let alone against the blue light generated by digital devices or emitted by fluorescent tubes. Blue light can cause damage to the retina and can contribute to age-related macular degeneration that can lead to blindness. But that’s not all! Prolonged exposure to blue light also has an impact on the skin, causing it to age prematurely. According to the research to date, its effects are comparable to those of UVA rays, with the exception of mutations in the DNA. Like UVA rays, blue light can cause the generation of a significant amount of free radicals (mainly reactive oxygen species (ROS)). A study conducted by researcher L. Zastrow reveals that 50 per cent of sun-induced oxidative stress is caused by visible light, the other 50 per cent being the result of the effects of UVA rays. Therefore, blue light deteriorates skin cells, causes the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, contributes to the loss of elasticity and generates pigment spots.

Current Solutions

At present, only sun products containing mineral sunscreens (titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide) can – only partially – reflect blue light, and visible light in general. Chemical-based filters do not protect against blue light. Sunscreens or anti-aging creams with antioxidants also provide partial protection against the deleterious effects of blue light. Antioxidants should therefore be used daily, in the morning and in the evening, in summer and winter, because blue light is a constant threat, from morning to evening, in summer and winter. Furthermore, over the last year, several ingredients that can deactivate free radicals created by blue light have emerged on the market and it is likely that these will give rise to many future health care products aimed at protecting the skin from blue light. However, in all cases, there is no complete protection available. Research is actively focused on continuing to develop an ingredient that can neutralize blue light before it has time to penetrate the skin and produce free radicals. 

Isabelle Villeneuve

Isabelle Villeneuve is R&D Director – Head of the Valeant International Center of Excellence in Skincare. Passionate about cosmetology, she has more than 25 years of experience. Villeneuve is recognized as an international expert in skin care.

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