DO BLUE LIGHT GLASSES REALLY WORK?
We've known for years now that excessive exposure to blue light can lead to things like eye strain, blurred vision, and can even affect your ability to go to sleep at a decent hour. In turn, there has been a surge in the market for blue light glasses as more people are using electronics late into the night. With our increasingly plugged-in world and our ever-growing list of devices that are always within arms reach — or even strapped to our wrists — it's no surprise that there's worry about what the light emitted from these devices is doing to our vision.
So the question is this: Is blue light really damaging our eyes, or is the concern about blue light just an internet sensation that will die away as we learn more about blue light? In this article we aim to answer that question and tackle the problem of what to do about blue light exposure head-on.
WHAT IS BLUE LIGHT?
Blue light is found in sunlight and is necessary for keeping us energized and awake, while also helping to regulate our circadian rhythm. Blue light on the visible light spectrum is shorter in wavelength (between 380-500 nanometers) and has the highest energy of all visible light (about 3.1 electron volts per photon). But that's not the type of blue light we're talking about. The issue arises when blue light comes from artificial sources in large, unwanted quantities.
Both UV light and blue light can be harmful depending on how much exposure one has to them; and the damage the cause accrues over time. You may have noticed that most sunglasses have a UV rating, which describes their ability to block UVA and UVB rays, and also works to limit the negative impact of blue light. This isn't new science; we've known about the problems of blue light for decades, and we've been working to mitigate the effects.
IS BLUE LIGHT HARMFUL?
Research suggests that blue light exposure can lead to macular degeneration in the eye, as lab studies have shown that too much exposure to blue light can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina. Macular degeneration can, of course, lead to complete blindness. There have even been some studies that suggest excessive blue light exposure may be more damaging to your eyes than cataracts (and their subsequent removal).
What we do know unequivocally, is that blue light heightens eye strain. High energy blue light scatters more easily than other visible light and is not easily focused. When looking at screens and devices, this blue light acts as visual noise and affects the strain on the eyes. Although there is still much research to do to determine what damage is caused by natural blue light (UV rays) as opposed to man-made blue light (devices and electronics), many people are beginning to take precautions in the hope of staving off a more dire situation in the future as we begin to come to terms with what man-made blue light can do to affect a person.
Digital devices that emit the highest amounts of blue light include your laptop or desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, and even handheld gaming devices. Blue light reaches deep into the back of the eye (further than UV rays), which over time can cause damage to the retina — an important part of the eye that enables vision. The naked eye's cornea and lens are unable to block this harmful light, which is where blue light glasses become extremely useful.
The unaided eye is not good at blocking out blue light. While the structures of the eye are good at stopping UV radiation from getting through the eyeball to the sensitive retina (less than 1% of UV light makes it to your retina), the same cannot be said of its ability to stop blue light.
HOW DO BLUE LIGHT GLASSES WORK?
One might wonder if we even need a new light-filtering pair of lenses on the market — after all, many of us own a pair of sunglasses, and they do an extremely effective job of protecting our eyes already. Sunglasses that block 100% of UV light are essential to protecting the parts of the eye that could lead to cataracts, snow blindness, pinguecula (non-cancerous bumps on the eyeball), and pterygium (also known as Surfer's Eye). All of these things are prevented through the constant use of UV sunglasses, but you can't exactly go around wearing sunglasses at work and home all day.
More importantly, there are key differences between the two when it comes to design and functionality. Most neutral sunglasses will filter all light equally rather than blue light specifically by using an antireflective coating. By contrast, blue light glasses use a tinted lens, which absorbs most of the blue light that would otherwise pass through almost entirely unimpeded to your retina. In doing so, blue light glasses provide the benefit of filtering the damaging spectrum you're actually exposed to at home and at work, but without dimming the rest of the world around you.
BLUE LIGHT GLASSES: EFFECTIVE SOLUTION OR TOTAL GIMMICK?
A lot has been written about the pros and cons of blue light glasses, with some studies concluding that they're very useful and others suggesting they're not necessary.
There have been a number of promising articles demonstrating the benefits of these lenses, including one from the Journal of Adolescent Health which showed that young boys wearing blue light glasses in the few hours before bed “felt significantly more sleepy” than when they wore clear lenses. Other studies in the Journal of Chronobiology International show that blue light-blocking glasses decreased sleep phase disorder; and a study from Molecular Vision found that blue light can affect photoreceptor damage.
It's important to note that even the detractors, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, do not claim that blue light glasses are ineffective; instead, they say that they don't believe they are necessary. They claim that, though blue light can raise the risk of eye disease, there have been no definitive links between computer screens and these diseases. They also claim that we all just need to stop using our phones at night, rather than use specialized lenses to reduce the impact. This of course doesn't truly solve the problem for those of us who are required to use our phones at night, for whom blue light glasses may provide a tremendous benefit.
Furthermore, though the AAO statement on the use of blue light glasses goes on to address other ways to reduce eye strain (taking frequent breaks, keeping your distance from the screen, etc), it does not actually refute the claims made regarding the ways that artificial blue light can cause eye damage.
3 SIGNS YOU NEED BLUE LIGHT GLASSES
There are many reasons why you'd want to wear blue light glasses as we've outlined above, but here are three main reasons why blue light glasses might be right for you.
1. You spend 10 or more hours looking at electronic devices.
We hate to admit that this could be us, but think about it: you're using technology in a busy work environment that may last for eight or more hours a day, with some added phone-scrolling or online shopping, plus settling in to watch TV or play video games — it all really starts to add up to a blue-light-heavy day!
A report from Nielsen Company showed that adults spent more than ten hours using electronic screens per day, and for teenagers the stats aren't much better. Ages 8-10 are at about 6 hours, and 11-14 are at 9 hours. So there's reason to believe that blue-light glasses might not be such a bad idea for the whole family, especially considering your children's developing eyes are shown to have an even harder time handling blue light.
2. You're Feeling the Eye Strain
Eye strain can show up in a number of different ways, from watery eyes and blurred vision to difficulty focusing and sensitivity to light. If you're experiencing these symptoms, then perhaps it's time to invest in some blue-light lenses.
3. You're Having Trouble Sleeping
As we mentioned before, most of the positive research that's coming about reducing blue light is coming in from the field of sleep science. Exposure to blue light just before bed can suppress your melatonin, disrupt or delay your Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and disrupt your circadian rhythm (the 24-hour cycle your body goes through which keeps you “on schedule”.)
Sleep deprivation has its own series of dangerous side effects, most notably lack of alertness which can be disastrous on the road. But other effects can be irritability, daytime fatigue, depression, paranoia, stomach issues, and excessive sleepiness.
If you're having trouble sleeping, struggling with eye strain, or just want to protect your eyes during the workday, Blue Light Glasses from JINS can help. Shop our collection of eyeglasses today and use our Virtual Try On tool to find the perfect frames.