There are a lot of mixed messages on the Internet about whether selfies can cause skin cancer.
The selfie has become mainstream. A way to share who you’re with, where you’re traveling, what you’re eating. It’s even acknowledged in the dictionary: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically, with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.
But there are a lot of mixed messages on the Internet about whether selfies can cause skin cancer. To Verify, we looked at research from The University of New Mexico and sat down with dermatologist Corinne Erickson.
We are a device-centric society constantly connected to cell phones, laptops, iPads — each of which emits blue light. “That light is not going to cause the type of DNA damage in our skin that leads to the development of skin cancer,” said Dr. Erickson of North Dallas Dermatology Associates.
So, we’re starting with the good news. Blue light from your devices or selfies won’t change your skin cells in a cancerous way.
Ready for the bad news? Blue light still penetrates the skin– stimulating cells to release pigment. Dr. Erickson said just like heat emanating from your cell phone, excessive blue light aimed at your face at close proximity can contribute to dark spots, wrinkles and conditions like melasma.
“If you do have a condition like melasma or you’re trying to keep the dark spots at bay, getting a headset to wear when you’re talking on the phone can be beneficial,” Dr. Erickson said.
For children, increased or cumulative exposure to blue light might lead to earlier signs of photoaging like freckles and wrinkles. “Despite all of that exposure, we still get much more exposure to that visible light from the sun itself,” Dr. Erickson explained.
UVA and UVB are parts of the ultraviolet spectrum known to cause skin cancer. That’s why you see, for instance, ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreens highly recommended to filter out UVA and UVB. They range from 280 to 400 nanometers in wavelength. On the visible light spectrum, the wavelengths are longer– 400 to 700 nanometers. Blue light, also called ‘High Energy Visible Light’ is what’s coming from your screen. It’s at the low end of that visible light spectrum– approximately 400 to 450 nanometer wavelengths and higher frequencies.
So, what happens when you take selfies in the sun?
For that, we dug up a 2015 observational study from The University of New Mexico. Doctors looked at reflections onto your skin while using your devices outdoors. That’s known as indirect UV radiation exposure. Researchers found that reflection from your devices increases your UV dosage, especially UVB, which raises your risk for negative long-term consequences when it comes to skin health.
So, back to our Verify question: can selfies cause skin cancer? That’s false. “Taking a selfie of yourself is not going to cause cancer,” Dr. Erickson said.
But remember, blue light does penetrate your skin. So you may want to chill on all the screen time to keep putting your best selfie face forward.
Dermatologists suggest protecting your skin from visible light by using antioxidants like vitamin C serum on your face every day. Keep in mind that while chronic exposure to blue light at night may not cause skin cancer, it can cause a host of other health problems.