Last week, The Daily Mail featured a story about a 26-year-old blogger who takes 50 selfies a day for her blog and saw a dermatologist to find out whether the high-energy visible (HEV) light from her cellphone screen was causing her skin to age prematurely. The doctor, cosmetic dermatologist Simon Zokaie, believed that this was, in fact, the case. He said that the light from her phone was causing her skin to develop dark spots, and that a lot of the damage on her skin from the light was still lying dormant under her skin. Gasp! Could it really be true that selfies cause skin to age more rapidly? I asked a few dermatologists to weigh in.
According to Joshua Zeichner, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center, there’s evidence that visible light plays a role in aging skin. “Visible light has been shown to rev up pigment production, leading to dark spots, and promote breakdown of collagen, which leads to wrinkles. It can also create reactive oxygen species that damage the skin and cause premature skin aging and perhaps skin cancers,” says Zeichner. “There’s no way to avoid visible light totally, but limiting time in front of your computers and cell phones can certainly help.” Yikes. (This idea was extremely concerning to me, as I spend my entire life in front of a computer screen for my job.)
But some doctors are calling BS on the whole concept. Scott Dunbar, a dermatologist in New York City with Schweiger Dermatology Group, says, “While it’s been conclusively shown that visible light can cause some skin diseases like lupus to flare, there’s no evidence that visible light, even at high intensity, contributes much to premature skin aging.” In terms of the data that’s available now, UV light (sunlight) is much more harmful to skin than the light from computers and mobile devices. “Even if there was some data regarding visible light aging the skin, its effect would be minuscule in comparison to ultraviolet light, which has been scientifically and convincingly proven to cause skin aging and skin cancer,” he says. “I’d say that you could take over a million selfies or use a computer for 100 years, and that still would not be as impactful as spending a single day in the sun unprotected.”
According to New York City dermatologist Rebecca Kleinerman, the answer is unclear as to whether HEV light can damage your skin. “This is a difficult question, because there’s mixed evidence in the literature for and against the contribution of visual light to skin aging,” she says. “Red visual light has been shown to cause cells to increase collagen synthesis. More recently, orange light has been shown to interfere with matrix metalloproteinase activity, the cells that work to break down collagen, and this may actually have anti-aging effects.” Kleinerman also says she would credit the blogger’s skin damage to UV light. “I’d more likely attribute the brown spots on her cheeks to longstanding UV exposure, which has been long known to induce lentiginosis and provoke melasma,” she says.
Whether or not you’re truly concerned about the light from your phone, it’s always important to protect your skin with sunscreen. And if you’re seriously concerned about all of your selfies contributing to signs of aging, Zeichner recommends loading up on face creams and serums specifically aimed at helping to prevent dark spots. Some of our favorites include SkinMedica Lytera Skin Brightening Complex, which contains both vitamin C and retinol, and Skin Inc Licorice Serum, which contains licorice and other antioxidants to ward off hyperpigmentation.