In these thrilling and unpredictable times, waking up to CNN alerts about nuclear-missile testing and AccuWeather forecasts calling for 20-degree temperatures on one day and 60 the next is just par for the course. And, to add insult to injury, the same electronic devices that we've come to rely on for just about everything — yes, including reading the news and checking the weather — may very well be giving us a whole host of new and exciting health problems to look forward to that our ancestors definitely didn't have to deal with.
It's still hard to say what, exactly, the extent of those adverse effects might be. Will we all get brain cancer from overexposure to electromagnetic radiation? Will the human body adapt over time through generations of mobile phone use and eventually evolve into some kind of hunched-over version of itself with vision specifically engineered to stare at a screen all day long? Hard to say. But a new sunscreen promises to minimize the damage in at least one way: by protecting skin against the blue light emanating from our beloved screens.
There are a lot of reasons why the new Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 is a top-notch sunscreen formula, none of which have to do with what an article in Harvard Medical School's Health Publishing journal once referred to as "the dark side of blue light." For starters, the brand set out with the goal to make a sunscreen that you won't hate wearing every day (which is how often you should be wearing sunscreen), and it succeeded: The formula is more like a weightless, silky primer than anything remotely sunscreen-y, with zero scent, zero chalkiness, and a smooth velvet-matte finish that controls oil and makes pores go poof.
But there's one standalone star ingredient that Supergoop says puts the magic touch on what is already a winning sunscreen formulation. Red algae, listed as Lithothamnion calcareum extract, is a nutrient-rich marine component known for being high in vitamins and minerals, often taken as a dietary supplement to improve bone health. Which is cool and all, but can it actually protect your skin from the harmful effects of blue light... and is that even something you should be concerned about?
"To answer that question, you have to understand the different effects of different wavelengths in the UV spectrum," says dermatologist Ted Lain, MD. Imagine it on a kind of scale, with UVA — the worst type of UV light for the skin, causing DNA damage and encouraging free radicals — at the top, followed by UVB, which is what leads to burns and premature skin aging. And then there's visible light, the colors we can see. That's where blue light fits in and, while visible light damage pales in comparison to UVA and UVB, blue is the most harmful of all the colors the human eye can see. (Dr. Lain calls it HEVL, for High Energy Visible Light.)
"Since we know that visible light, particularly HEVL, can lead to both DNA damage and premature aging, protecting against these rays is actually very important," Dr. Lain says. "We also know that the infrared rays can lead to premature aging. Sunscreen manufacturers need to manufacture products that are able to protect not just against UVA and UVB, as research has shown that other aspects of the UV spectrum should be addressed."
So, yes, there is a need for sun protection that defends against invisible light, but as far as red algae's role in addressing that need, Dr. Lain says that research on that particular subject is lacking, full stop. But, he says, "Red algae produces very important derivatives of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) that act as organic sunscreens. In particular, these compounds are incredibly effective in blocking UVA rays," making it "extremely useful and exciting" as a potential naturally-occurring method of light defense.
Regardless of how you get it, Dr. Lain says that daily sun protection is essential for the health of your skin, not just because of the blue light exposure you get from basically living in front of the computer, but because UVA light is as intense on a gray winter day as it is when you're basking on the beach in mid-July. And with a sunscreen as unobtrusive and barely-there as Unseen, there's no excuse for not slathering it on every morning. It's the perfect sunscreen for people who hate sunscreen — and it may even help ease the minds of those of us who wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety about blue light exposure, and nuclear warfare, and factory farming, and GMOs, and radiation from the microwave, and...