Blue light — which comes out of digital screens, the sun and some lights — is said to be able penetrate the skin and the retina, according to a study published by the Journal of Biomedical Physics and Engineering. That study showed that consistent exposure to blue light can damage the retina, as well as trigger oxidative stress on skin that can lead to premature aging.
Products that protect against blue light started as a nascent trend in the beauty industry about three years ago, but as consumer demand has increased, beauty brands have jumped on the blue light bandwagon with new products and marketing angles.
According to the NPD Group, blue light protective skin care saw a 170 percent sales increase in the first half of 2020. Makeup that aims to protect from blue light was up 179 percent for the first half of the year, NPD data showed.
Coming into 2020, the category was already growing, but concerns around more screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted a surge in sales, according to NPD’s beauty industry analyst Larissa Jensen.
“We saw really, really strong growth in 2019, so it was already a trend. But that growth accelerated in the first half of 2020. A lot of it had to do with the pandemic and many consumers in lockdown and an increased amount of working from home,” Jensen said.
Brands are adding antioxidants and SPFs like iron oxide to serums, sunscreens and foundations as they aim to build a barrier from blue light, and they’ve also started marketing products specifically for blue light protection as consumer interest increases.
Goodhabit Skin’s entire product assortment is meant to protect against light damage from excessive screen time. The line launched in May, during the pandemic, and products retail between $30 and $80. Founder Mariya Nurislamova relies on marine actives, which are meant to form a protective film against blue light and pollutants, as the hero ingredient.
Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint employs hydrolyzed algae and non-nano zinc oxide said to provide a barrier from blue light. Founder Sasha Plavsic launched the product, $46, in February and said within four months, the skin tint was the second most popular foundation at Sephora.
Plavsic said the brand has seen an uptick in sales during the pandemic that she attributes to the increase of virtual meetings. “It appears to be the Zoom product of choice,” Plavsic said.
True Botanicals founder Hilary Peterson, who has had blue light protection products in her range for several years, urges customers to apply at night in order to repair any damage caused during the day. True Botanicals’ $140 Renew Repair serum and $90 Antioxidant serum have antioxidants meant to provide blue light protection during and after exposure.
“It makes sense that you would want to use them at night to leverage that repair cycle. If the damage is continuing, then it’s a perfect time to address it while your body is repairing and to feed your skin extra-potent antioxidants,” Peterson said.
Elana Drell-Szyfer, the ceo of ReVive, stressed the importance of education around the emerging trend, and said that ReVive has adjusted some of its marketing materials, held Instagram Lives and masterclasses to talk to consumers about blue light. The brand also updated descriptors on the site to point out products and ingredients that are meant to offer blue light protection.
“We have tailored our messaging during this time for things that are on people’s minds. And that definitely does include screen exposure,” said Drell-Szyfer.
ReVive’s late 2019 launch, Defensif, is meant to protect from both blue light and pollution. The product, $175, includes superoxide dismutase, fermented pea extract, antioxidants and proteins, and comes in a dropper format so that it can be added to other products in a consumer’s regimen.
Sunscreen brands, including Coola and Supergoop, are also marketing products with antioxidants and other actives as blue light protectors.
New York dermatologist Rosemarie Ingleton said she has seen an increase in patients asking questions regarding blue light protection, but noted people should not be overly concerned.
“Generally, I tell people if they’re using products that have a mineral-based sunscreen they’re going to do just fine because that basically doesn’t allow anything in. Light bounces off the skin when you’re wearing a product that has a mineral, like a zinc oxide or a titanium dioxide,” said Ingleton. “Separate from that, the antioxidants are going to be your next layer of protection.”
Cheryl Burgess, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C., noted that some patients with hyperpigmentation or melasma may see greater effects from blue light exposure if they are not using the proper protection products. Burgess recommends using an SPF product that has a combination of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and iron oxide — common ingredients in sunscreens — in order to best protect from blue light.
Ingleton and Burgess both noted that blue light isn’t all bad, and that it is commonly used as an LED treatment meant to treat acne, discoloration or other skin concerns.
“These are not being applied for very long. Most people are going to be exposed at most 15 minutes to this light,” said Ingleton.
Back in the product world, NPD’s Jensen expects the blue light protection trend to continue, even as consumers break away from their screens and head outside.
“Even as we start to tentatively venture out, the chances are we’re still going to have a more increased percentage of time in front of technology. It’s something that we believe will continue to be strong throughout this year and even into next year,” Jensen said.
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