America has a complicated relationship with prescription drugs—especially thanks to the overprescription of opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin. This relationship falls under constant scrutiny for many reasons, two most universally being 1. the addictive element of these drugs and 2. the fact that opioids are legitimately used to treat pain. Symptom control.
Intense symptom control is necessary at times and very effective, when adhering to the proper protocol and paired with supplementary treatment. But when standing alone, symptom control is a slippery slope. The suppression of a problem becomes counterproductive when the actual issue isn’t properly addressed.
Enter: blue-light glasses. Their selling point is their promise to most likely protect you from harmful blue light rays that often come with the overuse of screen-based technology. With this in mind, consumers often purchase blue-light glasses to “protect their eyes” while spending workdays in front of a screen—claiming them to be a remedy for dry eyes, strained eyes, headaches, and more.
But the interesting thing about blue-light glasses is that they allow us to continue using technology even with these symptoms—instead of, say, cutting down screen time. BB (blue-blocking) has become a buzzword; it’s like we decided that blue light was bad, and made a product to remedy this. This begs the question: do we buy these glasses as a sort of Band-Aid for the greater problem, or are they actually useful?
From Jennifer Aniston to Miley Cyrus, plenty of A-list stars have been donning blue-light glasses and upping their hype. They’ve become so trendy that New York Magazine even posted an update in their article “Do Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses Actually Do Anything?” which reads:
“Update: A few of you have written to ask whether there were more stylish options than the Uvex blue-light glasses we recommended when we first published this post in April. We’ve refreshed this story with a few more aesthetically pleasing options.”
So really, where are people’s true ideals in all of this?
I’m not going to lie—I caved in to this trend and bought a pair myself. After browsing the internet I landed on Quay Australia’s Blue-Light Glasses, which made it easy to find a fashion-forward pair because of their “Virtual Try-On” feature.
What I discovered was that whenever I got a headache due to too much screen time, I would pop on my blue-light glasses and be able to keep working. Did it help? Kind of. Getting headaches was no longer an issue, and I could look cute while working. I’d also say that wearing the glasses made me feel like I was part of some elite protect-your-eyes community, and purchasing them made me feel like I was taking care of my eyes, mind, and body.
But still, I wonder—with these self-fulfilling purchases, are the companies selling these glasses like Felix Gray and Gunnar just exploiting an internet-wired society? Like, do they actually work? That seems to be the question everyone’s asking, from The Washington Post to medical clinics. Since the FDA doesn’t regulate eyewear, there’s little medical initiative to look into the matter. Instead, there are testimonials, speculations, educated guesses, and a ton of endless advertisements. At this point, the best option is to explore the most popular arguments and myths surrounding the trend.
First off, it’s helpful to know that blue light is everywhere. Blue light isn’t a new facet of the digital world; it’s been around forever, considering most of the blue light we receive is from the sun. What is new is the marketing of blue light. Blue light rays have become the “reason” for eye strain in the media—which isn’t entirely true. In fact, the advertising of blue-light glasses has arguably gone too far.
In 2017 a UK company called Boots Opticians was fined 40,000 euros over misleading blue-light advertising. The company got into financial trouble when they claimed that their eyewear could protect users from retinal damage caused by blue light—in reality, there isn’t scientific data that confirms that statement.
It’s also important to note that eye strain and the effect of blue light are two separate issues. Eye strain from laptops, tablets, and phones generally falls under the category of computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS, also known as digital eye strain, shows up in symptoms including eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain.
What’s interesting about these symptoms is that people report similar feelings after reading a book for too long. It’s the process of staring that causes many issues here—not blue light specifically. So despite what the ads may say, your headache likely isn’t from blue light, but staring at the same thing for too long.
Blue light is actually infamous for disrupting sleep patterns, specifically your circadian rhythm or “internal clock.” Because our bodies associate blue light with daytime, staring at a screen before bed can trick your body into thinking it needs to be alert.
As an owner of the glasses myself, I know they’re cute, on trend, and feel health-conscious. And there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a new pair of glasses, joining the A-list stars, or testing it out for yourself. But whether or not you make the purchase, ask yourself—could it be that blue-light glasses are just enabling us to use technology more and not feel bad about it?
By Anna M Erickson