Blue Light Glasses: What They Are and Why They Might Be Right for You
By Julia Wohlers, Brand of People Magazine
Did you know that the average American spends as much as 12 hours per day in front of a screen? From laptops and TVs to smart phones and tablets, whether we’re working or kicking back with some personal leisure time, we tend to put our eyes to work in harsh, backlit conditions for nearly all of our waking hours. Long-term exposure to blue light rays can lead to headaches, blurry vision, eye strain, neck pain and insomnia. To help mitigate these effects, many are turning to blue light glasses – also known as blue light blocking glasses or computer glasses – which are on the market in an array of stylish options at affordable prices.
While it’s always fun to add some snazzy new accessories to your collection, when vision health and mental focus are at stake, it pays to know exactly what features to look for in blue light blocking eyewear and how the technology works to your benefit.
What is blue light?
First things first: what are these lenses blocking? Blue light rays are the highest energy, shortest wavelength rays of the visible light spectrum. Some of these rays are essential to good health; they can boost alertness, cognitive function, and even improve your mood. They are the reason a cloudless sky looks blue. Sunlight is the main source of blue light, but of course the general public knows not to stare at the sun and to wear sunglasses outdoors whenever possible. On the other hand, artificial indoor sources such as display screens – even e-readers like Kindle – emit significant amounts of blue light compared to fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, and we spend plenty of time using digital devices in close proximity to our faces.
Unfortunately, the human eye is not very good at blocking visible blue light; virtually all of it passes through the cornea and lens to reach the retina. Because blue light scatters more easily than other visible light, it creates visual “noise” that reduces contrast and contributes to eye strain. Over time, this regular exposure can cause unpleasant symptoms and may even lead to more serious eye problems. Blue light’s penetrative capabilities can also damage the retina and increase the risk of macular degeneration.
Doctors are quick to emphasize that more research is needed to determine exactly how much blue light is too much, but eye care providers (and long-term digital electronics users like most of us!) are still concerned about hazardous long-term effects. No one wants to gamble with their eyesight.
What are blue light blocking glasses?
Blue light blocking glasses are distinguished from standard spectacles by the filters or surface coatings on their lenses that block blue light from getting through to your eyes. Most are designed to be worn during the day while using screens in an indoor setting, and during the evening or nighttime to lessen the effects of light on our circadian rhythm (more on that later).
The purpose of blue light eyewear is to reduce your eye’s exposure to light emitted from the devices we depend on daily for years at a time – many adults have been using LED screens since childhood. For those blessed with good vision, blue light glasses are available in lenses without a prescription, and the blocking effect can also be applied to prescription eyewear.
Who should use blue light glasses?
Given society’s current dependence on digital devices at all hours of the day, blue light glasses are a suitable option for just about everyone. If you work in front of a computer, check email, read the news online, browse social media, send text messages, take photos and edit them, play video games, watch TV on a large digital display or use streaming services on your laptop (and the list could go on), then blue light glasses may help ease the strain on your eyes.
Twenty years ago, it would have been relatively easy to identify specific professions or types of work that require blue light protection. But today, so many jobs place employees in front of a screen for at least several hours daily. Even during weekends and holidays, professionals may feel pressure to check in and graze their email. The eyes so rarely receive a day off!
Children are also good candidates for blue light blocking glasses, particularly because their still-developing eyes are more susceptible to blue light rays entering the retina. This may lead to eye cell damage, and could also contribute to myopia, or nearsightedness, in kids who spend lots of time on activities within an arm’s length of their eyes.
What are the benefits of blue light glasses?
Ophthalmologists and researchers have not reached a consensus on the precise cause of screen-related eye strain; some say the problem is chronic overuse of digital devices – also known as computer vision syndrome – and not the blue light rays themselves. Others insist that blue light glasses have benefits for wearers by alleviating eye fatigue and reducing the volume of rays that reach the retina.
Even where much of the evidence in favor of blue light glasses is anecdotal, experts can’t rule out any risks posed by lengthy exposure to blue light rays. Users also note significant relief from multiple blue light-related issues, saying they can work longer and that their eyes feel less tired at the end of the day.
It’s important to keep in mind that because blue light glasses are not marketed or categorized as a medical device, they are not regulated by the FDA. Early research and personal experience from users, however, demonstrate several noticeable benefits that can promote eye health and enhance quality of life for those regularly in front of their screens.
They keep your eyes more comfortable while viewing digital devices
If you’ve ever monkeyed with contrast settings on your TV or computer, you know that low contrast forces your eyes to work harder to decipher text, colors and images. Research bears out that lenses capable of blocking blue-violet light significantly increase the contrast of what we’re looking at, easing eye strain and dryness, reducing headaches and neck pain, improving our posture (notice how your shoulders slump over a keyboard when you’re squinting at the screen?) and allowing us to better focus on the task at hand.
They can help you sleep better at night
Blue light can both regulate and disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. After sunset, the lack of sunlight signals our bodies to begin secreting melatonin, the hormone that makes us fall asleep. Blue light rays from LED devices (you know, the ones we tend to scroll through just before bedtime) inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, keeping sleep at bay. Blue light blocking glasses can improve sleep quality and duration without forcing us to give up evening screen-related activities, allowing us to continue to be productive at night – or, of course, to binge our favorite series from bed without compromising our ability to fall asleep.
They’re an easy way to experiment with a new aesthetic
While this is by far the least important of the benefits, it’s worth noting that there’s some fun to be had in picking out new glasses frames and styling your look, especially given the accessible price point of blue light lenses. Get your kicks by giving your eyes a break!
Julia Wohlers is a writer and visual designer obsessed with culture, travel and fashion editorial. She created Brand of People Magazine as a space to inspire creatives, entrepreneurs and culture-makers using their gifts to pursue beauty. Originally from Washington, D.C., Julia grew up all over the world, but she particularly loves Milan, where her son was born, and the Balkans, where life is uniquely authentic. You can find her on Instagram at @juliawohlers_ or follow the magazine at @brandofpeoplemag.