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We’re all aware of the dangers of getting too much sun – but could artificial light from screens be equally as bad for us?
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world. We’re often warned about the harmful ultraviolet light in the sun’s rays and are advised to apply cream with a high Sun Protection Factor, so we don't risk serious skin damage. But could there be another, equally harmful light staring right at you - as you read this very article?
Screens and skin damage
“High-energy visible light (HEVL) refers to the higher frequency, shorter wavelengths of light in the violet-blue band in the visible spectrum,” explains Dr. Andrew Birnie, a dermatologist and skin cancer specialist at BMI The Chaucer Hospital.
HEVL is also known as blue light. We’re advised not to use laptops and smartphones too close to bedtime if we want a good night’s sleep, as the blue light emitted by screens can make your brain think it’s still daytime, keeping you awake. But some have other concerns about the effects of HEVL.
Could our screens be ageing us?
Researchers at the University of New Mexico have been looking into the effects of HEVL on the skin, and suggest that this type of light could be damaging to the skin by stopping it from healing and so accelerate its ageing process2.
Still, there is a wealth of research into the effects of HEVL, and discussion among dermatologists and the skincare industry about whether creams and moisturisers should offer protection from it.
According to Dr. Andrew Birnie, though, there is “no evidence” that we’re at risk of skin cancer from using our screens6.
"Text neck" and "nomophobia": other health hazards in the age of the smartphone
The trappings of modern life have raised other concerns among some people about our health. Here are two other 21st century terms you might not have heard about:
This might sound made up, but nomophobia or ‘no mobile phobia’ refers to anxiety about our smart phones including fear of losing them or being without them, as well as missing notifications. Nomophobia can affect everyone, both teenagers and adults alike, as many of us perceive our phones as an extension to ourselves 3.
Spine surgeon Dr. Ken Hansraj believes that looking down at our phones puts increased strain on the neck and spine. Because our heads are quite heavy, the more they tilt forward, the more force is exerted on the spine which Dr. Hansraj suggests could lead to permanent damage4.
Should I be worried about HEVL?
"Text neck" and "nomophobia" might sound manageable - by limiting the times that we check our phones for instance, or ensuring we stretch and exercise to maintain good posture. But if the light from our screens is potentially damaging, how should we deal with this? After all, many of us work in front of computer screens. And even if we don’t, they’ve become so integral to leisure and communication that not looking at them might sound extreme. In fact, an Ofcom report suggests that we now spend more time looking at screens now than we do sleeping5.
But not everyone is convinced by the supposed threat posed by HEV light. Dr. Andrew Birnie believes the jury is still out on whether the light from our screens poses a similar health risk to the sun’s rays. “Until more research is done, people are better off just using broad-spectrum, five star UVA protection every day6.
Whatever you think about the effect of screens on our skin, the experts are definitely in agreement on the importance of protecting ourselves from the sun. We have an extensive question and answer section on skin cancer with a range of specialists in this area, including Dr. Andrew Birnie himself, which you can read here.
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