Got Pigmentation? Your Mobile Phone Is Probably to Blame

Amy Lawrenson

Last week I went to see facialist Kate Kerr. I saw her last year, and she changed my skin with one potent piece of advice: Stop using oil. Since that treatment, I have, more or less, been spot-free after years of bouts of frustrating and confidence-knocking acne. This time, while I know my skin isn't perfect, I wasn't sure that I'd come away with a quite so skin-changing tip. I was wrong.

Kerr took a look at my skin under a bright light and magnifying glass (terrifying), and while she admired the texture, she noted that I had patches of irregular pigmentation, meaning it's not uniform but rather sporadic across my complexion. I never put my face in the sun for prolonged periods, and I wear sunscreen (thanks to my foundation) every day. I also make a point to remove my makeup at night and go bare-faced at weekends (just slathering on an SPF) to give my skin a break. "You work on a laptop and then you're on your phone most nights?" Kerr asked. "Yes, that's my job," I replied. Apparently therein lies the problem. "HEV (high energy visible) light emitted from devices like mobile phones and laptops has been linked to the production of pigmentation in the skin," Kerr told me, so cleansing my face when I get in and then sitting in front of a laptop is not my best move.

While HEV light is found in the sun's rays and any visible light on the blue spectrum, the increase in screen time means we're vulnerable to "non-specific discolouration with long chronic exposure," explains Zein Obagi. Realistically, I can't reduce the screen time (unless I change career), but thankfully there are some small tweaks that will protect your skin and improve your existing pigmentation.

So how does this HEV light trigger pigmentation, and what's the solution? Kate Kerr reveals all below.

How does hev light attack the skin?

"HEV light is just as damaging, if not more so, than UVA and UVB, but the studies are ongoing. This blue light infringes on the transportation of minerals in and out of the cells, causing irregular cell function and leading to DNA damage and premature ageing.

"Regarding pigmentation specifically, the melanocyte (a mature melanin-forming cell) is designed to protect the skin from light. When high levels of light such as HEV and UV light are detected by the skin, the melanocyte (the skin’s first line of UV defence) kick into gear and deposit melanin into the surrounding 36 keratinocytes (skin cells). If you are one of the unlucky ones who has an erratically behaving melanocyte, it may deposit melanin upwards or downwards, or in an irregular fashion, leading to non-specific discolouration," says Kerr.

How can i stop hev light from attacking my skin?

There are a few easy ways to tackle pigmentation caused by HEV light, but Kerr warned me that irregular pigmentation like this is something I need to be on top of every single day if I want a clear complexion.

1) Use sunscreen.

"From the moment you get up in the morning to the moment you go to bed. If there is any light in your house, there is UVA damage being made to your skin. If there is light and you are watching TV or using your devices, then there is HEV damage too," warns Kerr.

2) Wait until bedtime to take your makeup off. 

"By doing this you're removing that protective layer. If you prefer to take your makeup off in the evening when you get home, you will need to reapply sunscreen after removal and cleansing, especially if you're planning on being in front of a screen.

3) You need more than just SPF.

"Antioxidants like vitamin C can last in the skin up to 72 hours post application, helping to prevent against free radical damage, but bear in mind, free radical damage is not the whole story when it comes to HEV, it is the activation of the melanocyte and the irregular cell function that is key in this. Therefore you should use ZO Skin Health Ossential Daily Power Defense to protect against the DNA damage and apply ZO Skin Health Oclipse Smart Tone SPF 50 with Fractionated Melanin, specifically designed to combat against HEV light," explains Kerr.

4) Go hands-free.

"When using your mobile, talk on your phone with earphones rather than with the phone to your cheek. The heat from using the phone against your cheek causes inflammation, which activates melanin production, which can lead to hyperpigmentation and discolouration. You may notice you have more discolouration on the cheek that touches your phone rather than the other," says Kerr.

Obaji agrees, "In my experience, I have been able to tell which hand a patient holds their phone in, as the skin takes on a dull, almost dirty texture, which has not been induced by the sun."

"Don't use your phone outside in bright sunshine; you will receive a double hit of reflected light bouncing off your screen and the light emitted from your device," says Kerr.

What products should I use?

"Use an antioxidant and sunscreen every morning, with makeup to increase protection," says Kerr.

"In the evenings use a retinol to stimulate the skin cells.

"Morning and night use a product containing tyrosinase (an enzyme that causes pigmentation) inhibitor.

"Reapply sunscreen every two hours when in the sun and use a physical block rather than chemical," Kerr adds.

When it comes to products for tackling HEV-induced pigmentation, Kerr recommends Dr. Obaji's ZO Skin Health range.

We love Make's Moonlight Primer, Dr. Sebagh's Supreme Day Cream and ZO Skin Health Oclipse Smart Tone SPF 50 with Fractionated Melanin, which are all designed to protect the skin from HEV light caused by screen use. Shop them below.

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