After publishing an article on collagen protein a few weeks ago, I asked my Instagram followers for other health fads that people didn’t understand the science behind. I got SO MANY amazing suggestions: from adaptogens to aloe vera juice, to the mood-stabilizing effects of Advil. I decided that I want to write about them ALL, so be sure to sign up for my emails in the sidebar if you don’t want to miss future articles! That said, this week, I figured I’d tackle another “scientific” fad that I have also participated in: blue light glasses. I dove into the science of blue light glasses to see if they actually work, and what their potential benefits might be.
I’ve worn glasses basically my entire life, and spend 90% of my day looking at screens. I have a pretty nasty history of headaches and migraines, and I’ve tried everything. I’ve forever been a bit obsessive about changing the zoom on my computer and utilizing plug-ins like Flux to mimic the real-light conditions of the current time of day. When all that fails from the draining effects of 12+ hours of screen time, I generally just resort to a significant amount of Advil. In the interest of saving myself from an NSAID-induced peptic ulcer, I figured it would be worth making the investment in anything that could stop my headaches before they start.
So when I bought a new pair of glasses this year (the Hawkins from Warby Parker, they make me feel like a 70s geek queen), I decided to spring for the upgrade to blue light glasses. I had done a little research on whether blue light glasses actually worked but still wasn’t entirely sure of what they would do to reduce my eye strain (and the amount of Advil taken).
The Science of Blue Light Glasses- What is Blue Light?
To get an idea of what blue light glasses claim they’re capable of, I looked up what blue light glasses companies claim on their websites. A lot are intentionally vague, stating that they might help those who spend too much time on the computer, or that extended exposure to blue light may cause eye damage or discomfort. Some clarify that what they refer to as blue light is high energy visible light (HEV Light), or light that is between 400-450 nm. This would technically make it… violet light, but maybe this didn’t work as well for branding.
(For a longer explanation I like this video, but in short, light is a type of electromagnetic radiation. Other types are UV rays, microwaves, etc. Visible light is between ~740-390 nm. The shorter the length in nanometers, the higher energy.)
HEV Light has been linked to a variety of concerns beyond those related to decreased sleep quality. From everything to the so-far unproven claim that it increases macular degeneration, to various skin concerns related to aging and skin cancer, HEV light may be impacting us in ways we aren’t aware of.
But when most people (including myself) set out to buy blue light glasses, most of us are worrying about how the light from our devices impacts our sleep. I wrote a little bit about circadian rhythms a while back and learned a lot about sleep cycles and melatonin production.
Studies have shown that blue-light rich LEDs suppress the natural production of melatonin, and that blue light exposure may increase alertness. The general consensus is that melatonin production and sleep are affected by blue light exposure, yet the question is, how much?
A review of studies on circadian rhythms and blue light showed that while blue light was effective at suppressing the production of melatonin, melatonin production would recover within 15 minutes. Additionally, what is generally defined as “blue light” is closer to 460 nm, and all light, including yellow light, has been shown to have an impact on melatonin production. This means that blue light may not be the sole culprit contributing to bad sleep in a digital age.
Do Blue Light Glasses Actually Work?
All that said, do blue light glasses actually work? A 2019 study looked at 7 different brands of lenses advertised to block blue light and ultraviolet light. All of the lenses tested blocked 100% of UV light and 96% of the HEV Light up to 412 nm. However, as the range increased, inching out of the HEV Light range and into the blue light range at 460 nm, the glasses blocked less light.
Some brands fared better than others, with one blocking 73% of HEV Light, but another only blocking 8.3%. Funnily enough, some cheap sunglasses they used in another portion of the study also blocked 100% of the UV light and 67% of the HEV light. So if you’re into looking really cool and wearing your sunglasses all the time, there’s no need to buy $100 blue light blockers, and you can absolutely use the ones at the back of your closet.
All this said, blue light glasses likely work to varying degrees at blocking the blue light hitting your eyes. However, this does not mean that they are going to prevent you from eye fatigue or degeneration over time. We don’t know yet if screens contribute to macular degeneration. If you’re experiencing eye fatigue, it’s probably more the result of straining to look at tiny font on a page, or zooming in too close on someone’s Instagram. Taking breaks and putting the screens away will likely do far more for tired eyes than blue light glasses will.
Blue Light and Melatonin
We do know that blue light and melatonin impact one another, and that sleep is therefore impacted by blue light. Unfortunately, there’s not much to say for the other claims blue light glasses companies tend to make. Even then, while blue light glasses may help us sleep better, they’re not the only solution. If you’re worried about reducing nighttime blue light exposure due to shifts in melatonin production, this can also be accomplished by turning on night mode.
As far as fatigue and eye disease, there’s simply not enough evidence to suggest that blue light contributes to them in any way. If your eyes hurt, try taking breaks, and if that doesn’t work, please go to the doctor.
If you’re still needing a bit of help in your decision making, Twitter’s favorite ophthalmologist has a great thread on blue light glasses and their potential benefits. Just don’t open this before bed, because I promise you, you will end up watching his TikToks for too long, and that definitely WILL impact your melatonin production.