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Calm Down, Your iPhone Is Probably Not Trying To Wreck Your Skin


It’s a theory made for clickbait (and for me, a neurotic millennial, too): You won’t believe what your devices are doing to your face.

A few months back, the Internet circulated a rumor that the brand of rays our beloved screens emit can do serious harm to skin. Even now, research is thin. But what little has been scattered on the web indicates that high-energy visible (HEV) rays, which is how they are known, take a toll, penetrating our skin deeper than even the sun does. Some scientists have theorized the rays could be giving us dark spots or wrinkles. At the very least, they know they keep us awake. But the Daily Mail, which trades on anxiety and cute pandas, went further. The newspaper shared the story of some millennial social media star who supposed her iPhone was to blame for a stretch of bad skin.

“From freckles on my cheeks to larger pores than usual to dark circles under my eyes—it was time to stop relying on makeup to paint over the reality,” she asserted.

Wanting answers, this “selfie queen” went to see Dr. Simon Zokaie, who sounds like he should be on subway advertisements but is not. And, lo, Zokaie validated her nerves. He said that HEV fallout had not only caused the new pigmentation and brown spots, but also produced inflammation under the skin that over time would slow the normal recovery process. A bad breakout would now take “longer than usual to settle.” This is why they say there is no such thing as a free selfie.

Anyway! To appease the panicked masses, business stepped in. Make Beauty marketed a primer this fall that promises to combat the malevolent rays. It is made of algae and shea butter and witch tears and unicorns, probably. The brand told Byrdie.com that the combination of ingredients—minus the unicorns and tears, fine—“work[s] as a biological active complex” that both wards off HEV rays and blocks out “environmental pollutants: soot, car exhaust, free radicals, and general urban grime.” Also: The bottle is sleek! The issue seems serious! Save me from my selfie!

But I’m a good hypochondriac, OK? Before I invested in yet one more product or had a nice think about whether I could thrive in an Amish enclave, devoid of screens, I decided to poll some experts (who have no ties to the Daily Mail) about blue light. Here is what they said:

Revered as much for her matchless technique as for her wise perspective on skin and, frankly, the universe, holistic facialist Kristina Holey stresses to me that we really do not know very much about HEV rays at all. What a comfort. Without real intel and when the effects of them “are pretty unclear,” she is in no rush to make any drastic proclamations. Still, she reminds me, it never hurts to “support our skin in a holistic manner.” Holey worries about “those who strip, purify, and exfoliate the skin or [who] have already high levels of inflammation in their skin.” It compromises “the skin barrier layer,” she explains. It makes her so nervous, in fact, that she has lately been hard at work on a restorative serum that would reverse the effects of harsh skin treatments and fortify our dermal armor. In the meantime, she advises that people load up on products and foods that both promote “barrier layer development” and boast anti-inflammatory benefits. I take this to mean I should eat more flax and take a chill pill, probably.

On the other hand, dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe almost undoes my resolve. Yes, she tells me, visible light can penetrate the skin and lead to free radical formation. Sure, it has been known to lead to signs of photoaging and can cause brown spots or pigmentation, especially for people who have dark skin. “But all that said,” she says. “I wouldn’t get too scared about it. As of now, there is not a preponderance of evidence showing that this is causing a majority of the photoaging in the skin. And so while I think this is contributing in a small way and I think the beauty industry may want to develop physical blockers and that could be interesting, it’s not a top priority for me.”

I then speak to skincare guru Ildi Pekar at her office and beg her to tell it to me straight.

“I do notice that when clients use the phone often on a particular side of their face, it does age the skin more,” Pekar concedes. Worse, Pekar has yet to find a treatment for HEV-laced doom. So, she mostly recommends that women invest in headsets. Make them chicer, Silicon Valley!

At this point, I am so nervous now that I stock up on antioxidant-laden foods and wait for Dr. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, to get back to my frantic emails. She has a very busy day at the office, but she is kind and explains just how much I need to worry about HEV rays. This is how much:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Heidi
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 3:54 PM
Subject: HEV rays?
To: Mattie Kahn

Currently there is no evidence that any emissions from phones or computers are harmful to our skin.
Heidi Waldorf, MD
Honorary President of Aesthetic Dermatology
Aesthetic & Anti-aging Medicine World Congress
Monaco 2016

Fear and anxiety are powerful motivators. And goodness knows we have a lot to be nervous about—who controls the nuclear codes, climate change, what is going to happen on this season of Southern Charm...

So, let me give you this present that it took me several weeks of frantic conversations to internalize: You do not have to worry about whatever your phone or computer is zapping into your skin. At least, not yet. For now, slather on sunscreen, spend some time in the great outdoors, and try to relax. You’ll be so happy, so Zen, so free, you won’t even be tempted to refresh Instagram.

There—you’re saved.

—Mattie Kahn

Photo via ITG.

Follow up: Is my urban environment ravaging my skin? A little bit, maybe. Read about that here.