Tuesday, 28 April 2020 13:11

HEV Light: The truth about blue light’s impact on skin

Written by   Tanis Rhines

Sun exposure – it is an obsession with aestheticians.From the time professionals first become enamored with the epidermis, weare tuned into the detrimental effects of ultraviolet radiation.  It is those pesky invisible rays that cannot be seen but professionals know are there damaging DNA, increasing oxidation, and inciting melanocyte mayhem. The outcome is premature aging, hyperpigmentation, and cancer.  


Since individuals are exposed to these unviewable ultraviolet rays outdoors, many take solace in the dimly lit indoors where they feel protected from their harmful effects. But what about technology?From computers, smartphones, and tablets to LED lightbulbs,individuals must tango with another form of disruptive illumination – high energy visible (HEV) light.  


According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report for 2018, American adults spent over nine hours per day in front of a digital device– that is a lot of face to screen time with devices emitting high energy rays that are wreaking havoc on the epidermis.


Unlike ultraviolet, these rays are not only visible, but they invade the interior of individuals’ homes, offices, cars, and even darkly lit bedroom chambers. They are often referred to as blue light because these rays are seen as blue in color and give the sky its signature hue. However, high energy visible rays may be present even when light is perceived as white or another color. When exposed to some blue light during the day, it helps to stimulate alertness, elevate mood, and regulate the body’s own sleep-wake cycle. But too muchhigh energy visible light can damage tissue and keep individuals awake at night,so a fine balance of blue is the ideal.


Whenever individuals step outside, they are exposing themselves to a myriad of types of light. And, even when inside, whenever using a laptop, e-reader, or phone, individuals can expose them to high energy visible light. So, what causes the difference between all of these light forms and what effect do they have on the largest and most protective organ? To find the answers, consider how the sun’s radiation is classified by checking out the electromagnetic spectrum.



The electromagnetic spectrum is how scientists break down the energy being emitted from the sun. The spectrum of visible light (what the human eye can see) is made up of the colors of the rainbow. Invisible light includes UVA and UVB and, although unseen, it is still capable of damaging skin. This spectrum consists of many different wavelengths of rays. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the amount of energy the wave carries. And conversely, the longer the wavelength, the less energy. Some examples of invisible, very long wavelength waves are radio, microwave, and infrared rays. Gamma, x-rays, and ultraviolet radiation are also invisible and have very short wavelengths, packing a powerful punch of destructive energy. UVA radiation penetrates deep into the dermis. Unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling (photoaging),and as well assuppression of the immune system. This explains why herpes may flare after catching some excessive solar rays, such as at the beach or in a tropical locale. UVB rays usually burn the superficial layers of skin. They also play a key role in the development of skin cancer. UVA and UVB are both bad, so broad-spectrum sunscreens are used to protect the skin from their injurious effects. Visible light hovers in the middle with a rainbow of colors. If infrared could be seen, it would be just beyond the red band and ultraviolet would be just beyond the violet. So, where is high energy visibleor blue light in all of this? They are the last beams of color that humans can see right before the wavelengths are short enough that the rays become invisible and transform into UVA. Scientists disagree about the exact boundary between high energy visible and UVA, further supporting the fact that these waves have some similarities.  


To determine how much skin damage blue light can do, a study was conducted to measure the generation of excess free radicals – mainly in the form of reactive oxygen species – in the skin after exposure. High levels of reactive oxygen species can induce skin pigmentation, increase skin erythema and inflammation, and may even lead to cancer.1, 2, 3. It has been known to induce psoriasis, acne, and vitiligo.4,5.Then, there is also the activation of photoaging that includes lower collagen production leading to thin, dehydrated skin and presents as wrinkling and roughness. The scientists conducting the blue light study were surprised to discover that half of the free radicals generated in the skin were caused by visible forms of light.6.


To discover if genes are affected by exposure to high energy visible light, Lipo Chemicals studied human cells after being exposed to six hours of light and. They found that 90 genes were altered by blue light exposure, 40 of which affected skin regulation. These genes were involved with various processes such as inflammation, healing, barrier repair, melanogenesis, and pigmentation production. The results support the variety of previously described effects of high energy visible light on skin and increases the understanding of what is believed to be the detrimental impact that leads to accelerated skin aging.



So, what are the sources of high energy visible light?Outside, approximately 25% to 30% of sunlight consists of blue light rays. Inside, primary sources include residential and commercial lighting, computer screens, tablet, pad, and e-reader screensand smartphone screens.


LED, compact fluorescent, halogen, and incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent tubes lighting the inside of homes and offices all contribute, with LED bulbs emitting the most rays.  The amount of high energy visible emitted by electronic devices may be relatively small, but users are positioned close to the source and look directly at it for hours at a time, which may increase eye risk in particular. But,But it is still important to keep things in perspective  a person spending a short amount of time outside will have much greater exposure than spending hours inside in front of screens. The following table compares exposure levels from various sources including the biggest contributor: –natural sunlight.



Light Source

HEV Power Output (µW/cm2)

Exposure Time Required to Equal 15 Minutes in Full Sun


1000 through 1500

15 minutes

LED lighting



Compact fluorescent lighting


10 hours



10 hours

Computer screen


13 hours

Incandescent lighting


38 hours


Light SourceHEV Power Output (µW/cm2)Exposure Time Required to Equal 15 Minutes in Full Sun


Sunlight1000 through 150015 Minutes


LED Lighting2701 Hour


Compact Fluorescent Lighting3810 Hours


Smart Phone3610 Hours


Computer Screen3013 Hours


Incandescent Lighting1038 Hours


Power values measured by BlueSpec light meter; 425 nanometers through 465nanometers. Light source distances (approximately): LED, CFL, and incandescent lights (three to six feet);, computer screens (24 inches),; phone (12 inches).



There are two ways to save skin from the deleterious effects of excess high energy visible light: block it so it does not penetrate skin and orcounter the effects of reactive oxygen species through the use of quenching compounds.

Block High Energy Visible Light  

A little blue light goes a long way,and a great way to reduce overexposure is by stopping it from hitting the skin. Of course, limiting time outdoors, in front of screens, and in certain types of lighting is critical. But, when it is time to venture out or when putting in 10-hour days at a desk job, consider the following. 


Sunscreen:Individuals are already familiar with the use of sunscreen to block the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation on skin. Although effective against ultraviolet rays, sunscreens are not designed to specifically block visible light. Broad-spectrum lotions that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do provide some blockage and are recommended for daily use. Look for ones that also contain other blue light eradicating agents such as melanin and antioxidants.


Fractionated Melanin: This photoprotective pigment is not only found in skin but also in other animals and plants and absorbs all wavelengths of light. Melanocytes make melanin, which gives skin its color – and is the first line of defense against the damaging effects of light. Unfortunately, melanin in its native state in skin does a poor job of protecting against blue light. But, fractionated melanin produced from corn was specifically designed to absorb high energy visible light. It is also a big molecule and will not penetrate skin, therefore staying on top to protect.


A spin on this ingredient, liposhield high energy visiblemelanin, was invented by Vantage Specialty Chemicals and is a patent-pending compound that acts as an umbrella against blue light. Changes in gene expression due to high energy visible light exposure were blocked in 39 of the 40 genes related to skin function. Look for this novel ingredient showing up in skin and hair care products targeted for protection against blue light.


Topical Lutein: This is another hero ingredient used to protect tissue. FloraGlo Lutein Topical was invented by researchers at Kemin. When tested in-vitro using living cells, cell viability was improved by 35% to 45% after the cells were exposed to blue light compared to the control group, indicating that FloraGlo Lutein Topical effectively reduces the cell damage imposed by blue light. Also, results showed less reactive oxygen species generation in skin cells treated with FloraGlo Lutein Topical and exposed to blue light. FloraGlo Lutein Topical was able to reduce reactive oxygen species release in human epidermal keratinocyte cells by 44% to 60% and by 53% to58% in human dermal fibroblast cells when compared to the control (100%).


Protective Clothing: Wide brim hats, wraparound sunglasses with anultraviolet rating, and clothing made from materials that have an SPF rating help keep blue rays at bay. Computer glasses made with yellow-tinted lenses block the blue and help protect eyes from harm and stress brought on by most modern-day monitors.


Apps and Glare Screens: There is a rise in the development of apps, software, and glare screens that help filter blue light. The apps and software can adjust the temperature of a screen to a reddish-orange hue. There is also a night mode on many devices. Investment in glare screens for computers and handheld devices can help halt high energy visible light. Both promise to reduce the stimulation produced by blue light and also help to get more restful sleep.

Quench High Energy Visible Light 

Reactive oxygen species are highly volatile chemicals that can create damage within cells. They are generated by excessive blue light exposure, but their destructive reactivity can be quenched by the presence of antioxidants. Unless one lives under a rock, being exposed to high energy visible light and its possible cascade of calamitous cellular events is inevitable.Therefore, incorporating antioxidants into one’s lifestyle and skin care choices is critical to maintaining healthy and gorgeous skin.


Antioxidants: As much as individuals attempt to limit the amount of light on their skin, exposure is still unavoidable and free radicals happen. The best defense against the reactive oxygen species that develop from blue light is to drench one’s system, both internally and externally, in order to quench these malicious molecules. Although there are hundreds to choose from, the following can be both consumed and used topically to reduce the photoaging effects of overexposure. 


  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E):This classic, fat-soluble vitamin can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, and their oils. Squash, kiwi, and trout are also rich with E and topically it prevents skin aging and inflammation.7
  • Epigallocatechin Gallate:This polyphenol that is abundant in green tea helps to counteract many of the negative effects of rogue reactive oxygen species.7,8 Drink it and wear it for optimal results.
  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)Excessive exposure to light decreases the amount of vitamin C, particularly in the epidermis where it is needed to attack light-induced reactive oxygen species.7,9 Reduction of the stratum corneum by exfoliation and products prepared with a pH below 4 help the transport of ascorbic acid into tissue.10Oral supplementation and foods abundant in C, such as rose hips and chili peppers, increase quenching, and help to maintain healthy cells.


Algae Extract: Scenedesmus rubescens, red algae, is known for its unique self-defense capabilities. Living in freshwater lakes, it developed a unique set of active components against external stressors such as heat, drought, and exposure to blue light and ultraviolet light. Extended testing of scenedesmus rubescens confirmed its unique holistic effect against skin damage caused by blue light. This mighty microscopic algae produces a unique mixture of amino acids, vitamins including B3, and minerals. Some of the more interesting compounds produced are algal polysaccharides. These are carbohydrates with bioactive properties including anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antimutagenic, and immunomodulatory (meaning they can enhance the immune response).11


A study was conducted on the effects of extracts from scenedesmus rubescens to assess its potential to protect skin from photoaging. Human dermal fibroblast cells were analyzed for the presence of photoaging markers when exposed to irradiation. The cells that were treated with the extract of this red algae had an increased survival rate of over 200% when compared to the untreated cells. Total collagen production increased by 34% and, specifically, collagen III increased by 29%. But wait – there is more. Tyrosinase activity (which can lead to hyperpigmentation) was inhibited by over 70% and cell sunburn formation (when exposed to UVB) was decreased by 37%, outperforming a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 50.12Overall, this unique algae extract has promising properties worthy of including in a daily skin care routine.


If professionals and clients are serious about strategizing against the deleterious effects of light, protection against UVA and UVB is not enough. It is time to get onboard with the necessary practices and products to reduce photoaging due to overexposure tohigh energy visible light, both from outdoor sun and indoor modern technological devices. Get out of the blue and into healthy skin.


  1. Xu H, Zheng YW, Liu Q, Liu LP, Lup, FL, Zhou HC,Isoda H, Ohkohchi N, Li YM. Reactive oxygen species in repair, regeneration, aging and inflammation. 2017. DOI:10.5772/intechopen.72747.
  2. Pelle E,Mammone T, Maes D, Frenkel K. Keratinocytes act as a source of reactive oxygen species by transferring hydrogen peroxide to melanocytes. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2005;124:793-797.
  3. Rhodes LE, Gledhill K,Masoodi M, Haylett AK, Brownrigg M, Thody AJ, et al. The sunburn response in human skin is characterized by sequential eicosanoid profiles that may mediate its early and late phases. FASEB Journal. 2009;3947-39566. 
  4. Briganti S, Picardo M. Antioxidant activity, lipid peroxidation and skin diseases. What’s new. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2003:17:663-669.
  5. Liu L, Li C, Gao J, Li K, Zhang R, Wang G, et al. Promoter variant in the catalase gene associated with vitiligo in Chinese people. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.2010;130:2647-2653. 
  6. L Zastrow, N Groth, F Klein, D Kockott, JLademann, and L Ferrero. Detection and identifi¬cation of free radicals generated by UV and visible light in Ex Vivo human skin. IFSCC Magazine. 11(3), 297–315 (2008).
  7. Masaki H. Role of antioxidants in the skin: Anti-aging effects. Journal of Dermatological Science.2010;58:85-90.
  8. Kim E, Hwang K, Lee J, Han SY, Kim EM, Park J, Cho JY. Skin protective effect of epigallocatechin gallate. International Journal of Molecular Science. 2018;19(1):173.
  9. Shindo Y, Witt E, Packer L. Antioxidant defense mechanisms in murine epidermis and dermis and their responses to ultraviolet light. J Invest Dermatol.1993;100:260-265.
  10. Lee WR, Shen SC,Kuo-Hsien W, Hu CH, Fang JY. Lasers and microdermabrasion enhance and control topical delivery of vitamin C. J Invest Dermatol. 2003;121:1118-1125.
  11. Misurcova, Ladislava, Orsavova, Jana,Ambrožová, Jarmila. Algal polysaccharides and health. 2015. 109-144. 10.1007/978-3-319-16298-0_24.
  12. Campiche R, Sandau P, Kurth E, Massironi M, Imfeld D, Schuetz R. Protective effects of an extract of the freshwater microalga Scenedesmusrubescens on UV‐irradiated skin cells. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2018. https://doi.org/10/1111/ics.12450.


Tanis Rhines




Tanis Rhines is a cellular and molecular scientist turned aesthetician revealing the truth about all things aesthetics. She is the co-founder of Ask the Estheticians and a prolific writer, tackling topics as a biotechnologist, breaking down the data, and revealing its application to skin care often in a humorous but always in an honest way. Rhines is known as the “Organic Beauty Scientist” and is passionate about busting myths and educating people to be brainy about their beauty. 

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