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Beauty The truth about blue light skincare—or, how to spot a skincare scam

Jan. 10, 2022
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One of the biggest controversies to hit the beauty industry in recent months came not from an industry monolith, but a relatively unknown influencer named Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter. To be fair, Valkyrae is the number-one female Twitch streamer of all time. But for those of us who have never so much as glanced at the gaming platform (and, let’s face it, that’s quite a good proportion of the world), her name was only a precursor to the follow-up question: “who?”

Nonetheless, Valkyrae had enough of a following to do what any good influencer does: capitalize on it with a product launch. Merging her love of beauty and gaming, she announced a skincare line called RFLCT. The line was designed with gamers in mind, aiming to “protect” their skin against the blue light of their devices’ screens. There was just one problem. It was all made up.

Immediately after launching, the line was subjected to the utmost skepticism on the purveyor of truth, r/SkincareAddiction. The claims that the artificial “blue” light produced by device screens has detrimental impacts on the skin were quickly called into question. These (very legitimate) questions were then taken to the brand itself, and, surprise surprise, they were unable to cite any of their sources. The entire brand was pulled from stores and the company announced its end—just two weeks after announcing its launch.

While RFLCT is sadly no more, though, there are some questions from its short life that remain unanswered—namely: do we need to protect our skin from blue light? 

So, let’s start from the beginning. Blue light is a part of the visible light spectrum, and sits right next to UV (ultraviolet) light. It comes primarily from the sun, though our personal electronic devices also contribute to our blue-light exposure.

We know UV light has the potential to prematurely age the skin and contribute to skin cancer. What we don’t quite know yet is whether we can attribute those same issues to blue light. Put simply, we cannot compare using SPF products to protect against UV light to using specific blue light skincare products—at least, not yet.

The main problem with the marketing of blue-light skincare products is that it ignores an immutable fact. The vast majority of blue light we are exposed to comes from the sun—and any notion that our screens are the real enemy is nothing more than a marketing tactic. As one dermatologist, Dr. Dray, says in a YouTube video reacting to RFLCT, “worrying about the blue light from your computer screen is like wearing a life jacket to drink a glass of water—you’re not going to drown.”

This leads us to the crux of the matter: the best way to protect your skin from blue light is simply to protect your skin from the sun. A tinted mineral sunscreen (ColorescienceDr Jart, and Avene make great ones) will keep your skin safe from both blue light, which might cause harm, and UV light, which we know definitely does. So instead of adding a whole new product to your routine to deal with a potential adversary, consider relying on a product you should already be using, which deals with a very real skin enemy.

In any case, what happened with RFLCT led me to think more broadly about influencer beauty lines and skincare scams. How do we as consumers cut through the nonsense of a clever advertising campaign and spend our hard-earned cash on products that we actually like and need?

As someone who’s worked in beauty for about eight years now, I have some experience in cutting through the noise and sniffing out the beauty products that are truly worthwhile. Let she who did not fall for Glossier Play (RIP) cast the first stone, or whatever.

I’ve come up with one hard and fast rule that I believe has helped me avoid beauty disappointment over the years, and it’s far simpler than you may think: manage your expectations. Outside of a dermatologist’s office, there really are very few skincare “miracles.” Most of the products you buy are just that: products. They can smell good, feel nice, make you look a little better, and make you happy, but they really aren’t going to change your life. (At least, not that much. Though I must say, discovering the CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion and Missha Perfect Cover BB Cream did really turn things around for me and my face, personally.)

Honestly, I’m not opposed to buying stuff for stupid reasons. If you want to buy something, and you have the disposable income to do it, sometimes you don’t have to be too concerned about the boring parts of the consumer experience like doing your research. At the very least, if you did manage to get your hands on a RFLCT product, you have a collector’s item now—right?