Anna Gragert
March 24, 2016 11:16 am
Instagram/Miley Cyrus

It was recently brought to our attention that selfies may cause skin damage. Our #1 question: Is this really true?

The selfie-skin damage claim was made by 26-year-old blogger Mehreen Baig, who wrote an entire post on the subject for The Daily Mail. She explains that, on average, she takes up to 50 selfies every single day and is concerned that the HEV light (High Energy Visible light) given off by her phone is causing skin damage.

Baig writes, “Recent scientific evidence has suggested that High Energy Visible light is causing harm to the skin, leading to accelerated skin aging.” (No specific study is referenced in the article, so we’re not sure exactly what evidence is being alluded to here.) To investigate this claim, Baig visited cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Simon Zokaie, who, according to Baig, revealed that “HEV damage was also the reason why my breakouts were taking longer than usual to settle. My skin was slowly losing its ability to heal because of the inflammation HEV light was causing.”

We reached out to Dr. Julia Tzu, founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology, to find out whether or not this is actually true. “First of all, there is some limited scientific evidence that visible light (and even near infrared radiation), in general, causes reactive oxygen species formation. This is in no way, limited to the portion of the visible light spectrum of the selfie flashes however,” Dr. Tzu tells us. “Visible light from the sun was more of the concern in the actual study that made this conclusion (Zastrow L 2009. The missing link…).”

Dr. Tzu reveals, “If the data from the study is true, it would not be unreasonable to assume that visible light from the sun (which is much more intense) would be more of a concern than that emitted by cameras and computers. Premature aging that selfie users see on their face can easily be attributed to cumulative sun exposure, as there is no actual proof that camera light is the actual cause.”

So, what this means is that the sun is MUCH more damaging than a phone. And any damage that a phone supposedly does cause isn’t actually backed up by any qualitative or quantitative scientific data.

We also reached out to board certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, who made the same conclusion as Dr. Tzu:

“Yes, I agree that these claims made are a bit extreme. They have to be taken in context. We know that UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B) waves, which are in the 290-400 nm wavelength range, cause premature aging of the skin including wrinkles and brown spots, and increase the chance for skin cancer,” Dr. Lee explains. “Apparently, smartphones and computer screens don’t emit UV rays, but emit HEV (high energy visible) light, which is in the 400-600 nm wavelength range.  There is some research that claims these wavelengths of light can cause free radical damage to the skin, leading to premature skin aging and brown spots as well.”

“However, there is no way to prove that the brown spots, pigmentation issues, or wrinkles that you are getting, the damage seen in your skin is from ultraviolet exposure or HEV light exposure,” Dr. Lee concludes. “We can’t prove that it’s your phone causing those brown spots vs just being in the sun exposed to UV light in general. The sun and its UV rays remain a bigger threat to all of us no matter how many selfies we take.”

Even so, if you are still nervous about any skin damage whatsoever, Dr. Lee advises, “If you want to take as many precautions as possible, I recommend a sunscreen with broad spectrum UV coverage to protect from the sun, and a topical antioxidant such as vitamin C serum to help reduce free radicals in the skin created by HEV light, which can cause further sun damage.  These two will help guard against UV Rays and HEV light.”

Thanks to our dermatologist friends, we can conclude that there is not enough scientific research to confirm Baig’s specific claim. Yes, there is some research mentioning that HEV light can cause damage to the skin – but there’s no way to tell if this type of light is responsible or if it’s the sun (which is what we should actually be worrying about).