Skepticism

Livestreamer Valkyrae Launches “Blue Light” Skincare Based on BS

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Some of you may know that in addition to being a light of rationality here on YouTube, I am also a semi-professional gamer girl on Twitch. That’s right, I’m a pretty big deal over there. I mean, not to American audiences but…I mean…I’m big in the Netherlands…okay, okay, I am not an influencer and I am not a well-known livestreamer, I just play video games sometimes and chat to whoever shows up, and the people who do show up regularly were nice enough to tell me to try to stick to a schedule, set up a Discord channel, play anything other than Overwatch, and other basic things required to build an audience. I sort of stick to a schedule! And they set up my Discord for me, so that’s something.

My regulars also suggested I watch any other streamer to see, you know, how someone who is successful actually does it because honestly after five years of livestreaming I have no idea how livestreaming really works. So, I searched for women, because honestly who wants to watch a man play video games, and I found this lady called Valkyrae, aka Rachel Hollister. She is incredibly popular, with 3.5 MILLION subscribers. She got an exclusive deal to leave Twitch for YouTube’s streaming service, and she also became a co-owner of 1000 Thieves, an esports team apparently worth almost $200 million. And it’s easy to see why she’s so popular: she’s very charming and cute and the videos are really well-edited.

It turns out I don’t even really care to watch women play video games so I kind of forgot about Valkyrae UNTIL THIS WEEK when she leaked back onto my timeline thanks to launching a brand new company: RFLCT, a skincare line for GAMERS. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s interesting. I wonder what unique skin problems gamers have!” Let’s see what the founder has to say:

“It’s a skincare collection designed,” says Valkyrae, “to protect skin from blue light pollution.”

Huh. Blue…light…pollution. On your face. This is a new one. I mean, it’s new to me, apparently it’s not new to “the world” because Hollister says she’s been working on this for two entire years.

I was aware of other “problems” with blue light — first, there was the idea that it disrupts your sleep schedule, presumably because when you play on your phone at night before going to sleep, the blue end of the spectrum blocks melatonin, a hormone released by your pineal gland when it gets dark out, that is thought to help regulate your sleep cycle. If you stay up staring at a bright light, it makes sense that your pineal gland might be like “oh, huh, guess it’s still daytime out, let’s hold onto that melatonin.” And your eyes are more sensitive to light at the blue end of the spectrum than at the yellow part, so blue light might be worse for this issue. That’s why, after a few studies on this came out in the past five years, device manufacturers scrambled to add in “nighttime mode,” shifting your phone or iPad or laptop’s color temperature from blue to yellow.

But how bad is this problem, really, in the real world? It’s kind of tough to say. One study from 2014 found that subjects who read an iPad before bedtime had worse sleep than those who read a regular book, writing that the light-emitting device “prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning.” Wow, pretty bad, huh? Except, the actual real world consequence for the subjects with iPads was that they took an extra ten minutes to fall sleep. Also there were only 12 subjects, total. But this study has been cited nearly a thousand times and was written about in countless mainstream news outlets.

So while it’s true that light suppresses melatonin response in humans and blue light is the most disruptive, we just don’t know how much blue light disrupts our sleep in the real world. And while it may be true that people who use electronic devices before bed have a harder time falling asleep, it’s tough to say how much of that is due to blue light, bright light in general, or doomscrolling Twitter and checking your email when you should be unwinding. Sure, turn on “night mode” if you’re scared for your melatonin but if you REALLY wanna get the sleep of a lifetime, charge your phone and ipad in another room entirely and just lay there in the dark thinking of that time in the 4th grade you accidentally called your teacher “mom” in front of the entire class.

So I had heard about blue light and SLEEP, and then also relatively recently I started hearing about blue light and your poor eyeballs. I got new glasses recently and was asked if I wanted blue light filter on them, so I did some research, decided it was bullshit and said no thank you I will save the $30. Okay, “bullshit” may be a *bit* strong — I’ve definitely heard some people say that after staring at a screen for 8 to 12 hours they get headaches, and blue-filtered glasses help them with that. Is that just a placebo? Honestly I’m not sure. There’s no real data suggesting that blue light from screens is in any way harmful for your eyes, which is why organizations like the American Academy of Opthamology say you don’t need special glasses to work on the computer. Back in February, a double-blinded randomized controlled trial gave 120 subjects either blue-light-blocking glasses or normal clear glasses, telling all of them that they were blue-light-blocking. There was absolutely no difference between the two groups in terms of eye strain. So again, is it blue light? Or is it just staring at a bright screen 18 inches from our faces for most of the god damn day that’s the problem? Experts suggest that instead of spending an extra $30 putting filters on your glasses, you go outside and touch grass occasionally. Or, look at the grass. Honestly, I’m not joking — your eyes will probably feel better if you just remember to look up and focus on different things at different distances. Just be careful looking at the sky! I’ve heard that’s chock full of blue light.

That’s two different “problems” with blue light that really aren’t that big of a deal. That brings us to this latest claim: blue light emitted from our screens is damaging our skin. Sigh. Fine. You know what I’m going to say, so I will just say it up front: this is bullshit. You do not need special skincare to protect your nerd face from your video games.

I am not a skincare expert, or even a skincare enthusiast. You may guess this if you know me at all but my skincare routine is literally sticking my face under the shower. I stopped washing my face like 15 years ago and only noticed fewer pimples so I figured, why bother? Due to that fact, and also after spending way too much time digging through all the evidence for and against sleep loss and eye strain, I am relieved to be able to point to someone else who knows more than me and has already done very good work summarizing the issue of blue light and skin damage: Dr. Michelle Wong is a chemist who writes about the science cosmetics at LabMuffin.com. I will summarize her summary but you should just go check out what she has to say in full because it’s very approachable!

Wong points out that while UV light that you can’t see is the biggest skin damage problem, regular visible light can theoretically cause some damage as well if it’s in a high enough dose. Studies suggest skin damage begins to occur when exposed to a dose of about 40 joules per square centimeter — that takes about 15 minutes of standing outside in the midday sun, more or less depending on where you are and what the weather is like. You would get that same dose by staring at a computer screen playing a video game for approximately 8 months. Like, 8 months straight. No breaks. Just the world’s longest Super Mario sesh. Peeing in a cup. Wasting away to nothing. Turn up your LED screen to max and you can speedrun that dose in more like 50 days straight.

Look, I’m not here to shame anyone for playing video games too often. I have like 30,000 hours on Civilization. I dream in hexagons. But I’m pretty sure nobody is staring at a screen for so long that they need to worry about damaging their skin from it, compared to the 15 minutes they might spend outside once a month or whatever.

I’m terribly sorry to report all of this, because Rachel Hollister seems like a very nice person and I’m sure she worked hard for the two years it took to develop this skincare line. Like, I assume it took so much work that she didn’t have time to ask any chemists or doctors whether this was a real thing. I certainly hope that’s the case, because otherwise it means that she knows it’s a completely made-up “problem” that she is pushing to millions of followers (many of whom are literal kids) in order to sell a $24 jar of cream that contains “blue light prevention factor” (BLPF[™]) that is so obviously bullshit that they chose to represent it on their website as a floating purple crystal.

It’s so stupid, because honestly $24 for 1.7 ounces isn’t THAT bad for a skin cream with more or less the same moisurizing and stabilizing ingredients as a million other skin creams out there. But there’s no sunscreen or anything else that looks like it might block blue light. And yeah, $18 for a facial cleanser isn’t THAT egregious but, um, if your main goal is to block blue light then you do not want an exfoliant? Because dead skin cells are an actual physical barrier to blue light touching your skin?

So it’s a real shame that Hollister is using pseudoscience to sell these products to her naive audience, when she could have easily sold these simply based on fun “gamer” packaging and saying that she uses it. But I guess owning a multi-million dollar company and getting paid millions more to play video games isn’t enough for some people.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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2 Comments

  1. Wasn’t there a time when people thought blue light was so good for you they put blue glass in windows? I think I got that from the book “Quackery”.

    1. Not sure if it is related but decades ago white on blue writing was all the go for Powerpoint presentations.
      The same scheme was used in Windows – hence the classic “Blue Screen of Death”.

      I guess the colour scheme was designed to calm your screams!

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