DR JOHANNA WARD
Dr Johanna Ward BA (Hons) MBBS DRCOG MRCGP Dip Clin Derm is a cosmetic doctor and GP with a special interest in clinical dermatology and nutrition. She studied English at Oxford University and Medicine at Guys, Kings and St Thomas’. She is a member of the British College of Aesthetics Medicine (BCAM) and the Royal College of General Practitioners. Follow her on Instagram: @drjohannaward
HEV light (high-energy visible light), also known as blue light, is part of modern life thanks to how much of our time we spend surrounded by devices. But ongoing research is showing that it is now also becoming part of modern pathology. For the most part, we are totally unaware of HEV light, but it can cause significant damage to the eyes and skin, leading to accelerated ageing due not only to direct exposure from sunlight, but also from our skin’s inability to repair itself properly once the exposure has taken place.1
HEV light is emitted from the sun so it is not a new exposure for us, but the difference – and the reason it has become talked about in recent years – is that more of us are getting extra-large doses of HEV through our modern tech. It is emitted from our supersized televisions, our LED light bulbs, our computer screens and our phones. Patients complaining of tired skin, sallow complexions, skin sensitivity and enhanced visible ageing are experiencing the effects of light damage –I can see the damage caused by excess blue light in my patients’ faces.
THE ROLE OF MELANOPSIN
Blue light is hugely powerful; it can activate or deactivate our biological rhythm.
Our circadian rhythm and night-time repair functions are responsible for collagen production, blood flow, DNA repair, regulating skin temperature, balancing skin moisture and hydration, and supporting and repairing the skin barrier.
From research in the field, we are learning the importance of melanopsin –a type of photopigment – in the skin and eyes. Melanopsin is an important receptor present in the body which interprets our exposure to light to regulate our circadian rhythm.
We previously didn’t know that it isn’t just present in the eyes, but research now shows that these receptors are also present in the hypodermis, the deepest layer of the skin where the fat cells are found. Blue light can penetrate into the hypodermis and interact with the melanopsin receptors in the subcutaneous tissue, exerting changes in the tissue and affecting our biological or circadian rhythm. When exposed to excessive blue light our circadian rhythm is disrupted and the renew and repair signals to our skin cells can be impaired because the brain is tricked into thinking it is perpetually daytime.
BLUE LIGHT DAMAGE
Blue light causes direct skin damage similar to sun damage. UVB penetrates into the epidermis and UVA can penetrate into the dermal layers where the collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid levels are found. Studies now show that blue light, which can penetrate much deeper into the hypodermis, acts as a conductor to pull the damaging effects of UVB into the dermis and enhance damage in this area by up to 158%. 1 All three – UVA, UVB and blue light – create profound skin damage. The effects of blue light from the sunlight are similar to the effects of UVA and UVB, and can cause inflammation, free radical damage and DNA change from what we call ROS (reactive oxygen species). ROS gets produced in response to stress and damage and signals the cell to fix it.
When the cell is under constant stress, this ROS starts reacting with other parts of the cell and is one of the leading causes of sun-induced signs of ageing. We are now learning that we need to protect the skin against all forms of natural light, not just UVA and UVB. This what Mark Birch-Machin, professor of molecular dermatology at Newcastle University, calls the Whole Light Theory. His study tested all other light from the sun in relation to skin damage (HEV, UV and IR), and found that we need to protect the skin specifically from HEV to lessen the effects of sun damage, and that the cells in the epidermis both have different damage responses to solar light. 1
PROTECTING THE SKIN
Fortunately, there are some effective ways of protecting ourselves from the damage of light. Alongside daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen, I recommend the Digital Defence skincare range to my patients. It is a highperformance skincare range designed to block blue light, stopping it from penetrating the skin and supporting the skin’s repair process.
It uses an ingredient complex called DigiTect complex to block 100% of blue light, which also contains high-potency antioxidants like lycopene, verbascum and rice oil. Other plantbased natural ingredients in the products help reduce the signs of “digital ageing”.
Some of my patients are spending 10-14 hours a day in front of various screens and under powerful LED lighting. They are subjected to blue light from natural sunlight too, so this can increase their exposure up to 16 hours a day. Humans used to live by candlelight, but modern life has totally changed our light environment through artificial means. Unlike UV radiation, the threat from blue light doesn’t stop when the sun goes down; it’s in our homes and our hands for prolonged periods of time every day.
I believe that education on Whole Light Theory should become part of our patient treatment plans when addressing signs of ageing.
1. Hudson, L, Rashdan, E, Bonn, CA, Chavan, B, Rawlings, D, Birch-Machin, MA. Individual and combined effects of the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light components of solar radiation on damage biomarkers in human skin cells. The FASEB Journal. 2020; 34: 3874– 3883. https://doi. org/10.1096/fj.201902351RR