Is blue light bad for our children?
When you are expecting your first Grandchild there are lots of things to worry about . . .
Extract from Louis Macneice’s “Prayer before birth”
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.
I remember our English teacher reading us the full version of this poem when we were in our teens and it made a powerful impression on us. Most of the verses are wonderfully dark and deep but I have always loved this stanza because it mentions light. Yet who would think that the guiding white light might be damaging? I’m talking about cold white LED light, of course.
Is Blue Light Bad For Us?
I wonder if one day we will talk about the time when we spent hours without respite looking at a cool white screen, in the same way as we talk about how doctors used to promote cigarettes?
I used to think that the “fuss” about blue light retinal exposure was something jointly invented by opticians to sell more glasses and by specialist lighting manufacturers to sell more lights, but now I am not so sure. In 2016 I attended the wonderful Wismar Licht Symposium and I was lucky to meet Charlotte Reme a professor of Opthamology at the University of Zurich, specialising in retinal cell biology. She first introduced me to the concept that the spectral transmission of light through the lens of the eye changes a great deal over our lives.
As babies, children and adolescents we can “see” far more of the blue end of the spectrum and therefore these wavelengths of light reach our retinas. Perhaps if we could actually see the world through our children’s eyes it would be a far more vibrant place; maybe even the fashion for bright colours in children’s environments might seem a bit of an overload through a far clearer lens?
In the ANSES report of May 2019, Francine Behar-Cohen, an ophthalmologist and head of the expert group that conducted the review states that, because the crystalline lens in their eyes are not fully formed, children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to the effects of blue rich light. Conversely in a refutation of this report The EU group of scientists SCHEER (“Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks”) claims that among other things ANSES has ignored the findings of other scientists and relied upon studies in rats not humans. (Did they think tests might be done on babies? Call Herod!)
Whilst the impact of blue light is in question, no-one disputes the effect of UV light on our retinas – we are all aware of children’s sensitivity to sunlight. It’s commonly agreed that people receive 80% of their lifetime exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays before they reach the age of 18. Also, that the lens of a child’s eye will allow 70% more UV rays to enter the retina than an adult. Finally, infants’ eyes are more sensitive to light; their lids are more transparent which allows a shorter wavelength of light to reach their retina.
I think it’s time for some common sense. I was reminded during polymath Dr Shelley James’ excellent round table discussion about light and wellbeing , that the discovery about the change in our lenses over age was in the 1970’s. It’s possible that there is no photo-toxicity in the cool blue/white light that pervades our digital world BUT in the context of “first do no harm” I believe that the advice given at the end of the ANSES report: use warm white LED lighting, limiting exposure to LED sources with a high concentration of blue light, avoiding LED screens before bedtime and using light sources with minimal or no flicker is advice that I personally will follow – and also recommend for all the children in our family this Christmas – and that new grandchild!
And I’m not alone: here’s what consumer champions Which have to say on the subject:
Finally: this is not cute . . .
From Open University 2016: ‘Early adopters: What are smartphones doing to children?’ . . . with no mention of the biological impact of blue light.