Lisa Hannam
Lisa Hannam
@lisahannam

Does Blue Light Therapy Actually Work?

Yesterday was a tough day—not so much bad as exhausting. I just wanted to stay in my PJs all day. But midway through the day, I decided to kick myself in the butt and find some energy. So I pulled out my Philips goLITE BLU Energy Light and put it right beside my computer. Even now, as I write this at 6:30 a.m., it’s on. But before I tell you whether the blue light has given me an ounce of energy, I want to see what researchers say about it.

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1. Don’t use it at night.
Harvard University references blue light as artificial light that comes from electronics and energy-efficient light bulbs (which give off a bluish tint). Harvard’s report states that blue wavelengths (including the one I’m testing) “boost attention, reaction times and mood,” but are “disruptive at night.” Studies show that exposure to light at night is linked to certain types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. While not refuting my blue light use in the day (does 6:30 a.m. count as night?), it does recommend using red lights at night (I didn’t even know this was a thing!) and quit using my blue light and electronic devices three hours before bed. And Harvard says that exposure to lots of light throughout the day will give me a better sleep.

2. It might cause eye disease.
A report from the American Macular Degeneration Foundation references studies that suggest blue light might be linked to age-related macular degeneration (severe vision loss over 60). It suggests that blue light exposure can adversely affect the retina and macular pigment, and that if you have “low density of macular pigment,” exposure to blue light can make things worse. You can get tested, and risk factors include genetics, age, smoking, not eating well and a high BMI. I only wish the AMDF had said more about these studies (Are they big? Are they small? Were the subjects healthy? How long did the study follow the subjects? Were the subjects even human?), so I could properly assess whether this is a real concern.

3. Go for white light over blue.
When it comes to treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, choose a white light box over blue, suggests The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine. Most energy lighting is white light anyway, and their reasoning for choosing white over blue isn’t complicated—it’s just that white light has been studied more. They offer three tips for buying a light therapy appliance: Make sure it has been tested (check out the manufacturer’s website and the packaging); make sure it blocks harmful ultraviolet rays (again check the packaging and website, or call the company); and make sure it has a CSA stamp of approval and that the manufacturer has a good reputation.

As for me, I don’t think I have eye damage (yet!), I’m confident Philips is a reputable company and I’ve cut back on how long I use the light (Philips suggests 20 minutes a day). I found it made me more aware, but not overly energized in a caffeine kind of way. And I did have an amazing sleep last night, likely because I went to bed just after 9 p.m. But one thing I did do was turn my blue light appliance so that it wasn’t facing me directly. So I still get the the blue stimulation, even though it’s not directly pointing at me.