Too much screen time leaving your eyes bleary while working from home? Discover the facts about blue light blocking glasses as well as some of the best options for prescription and (non-prescription) computer glasses aimed at reducing the impact of phones and computers on your health.
I’ve been curious – and somewhat skeptical – about blue-light blocking glasses for a while.
My journey began more than a year ago when I saw an ad for Felix Gray, a startup founded by David Roger and Chris Benedict that sold glasses for the purpose of reducing glare and filtering out blue light rays.
This ad was my first introduction to the notion of wearing glasses to block blue light, and I had a lot of questions.
- What is blue light?
- Why is everyone suddenly so concerned about the impact of blue light on our health?
- Why in the world would I wear nonprescription glasses?
- Do blue light blocking glasses really live up to promises of reducing digital eye strain and improving sleep that some companies make?
Here’s what I found after diving deep into the literature about whether blue light blocking glasses really work (short answer: maybe), and after eventually trying a pair of prescription blue light blocking glasses from Liingo Eyewear for a month. (Update: I now wear those blue light blocking glasses religiously as I work from home amid the COVID19 crisis.)
This is an in-depth article, so please use the guide in the box below to navigate through it.
If you’ve decided already that blue light blocking glasses are right for you, skip ahead in this article to discover options for prescription, reader and nonprescription blue light glasses, or use these discount coupons to purchase blue light glasses directly:
- Liingo Eyewear: Save 25% off any Liingo Eyewear order, including their blue light lens upgrade, via this link with coupon code MODERNFELLOWS at checkout;
- Proof Eyewear: Get a $20 coupon off any $60 order from Proof, which makes interesting frames out of wood, cotton based acetate, and recycled materials, and whose founders took a turn on CNBC’s Sharktank.
Let’s start from the beginning:
What is blue light?
Blue light is one of many colors on the visible light spectrum.
Let’s dive into the weeds for just a moment to see why the focus that is being placed on the “harmful effect” of “blue light” is slightly misplaced:
- The visible light spectrum is the portion of the broader electromagnetic light spectrum that you can see with your naked eye. According to NASA, the eye can generally detect waves on the electromagnetic spectrum measuring between 380 and 700 nanometers.
- Violet and blue are the shortest visible light wavelengths on the spectrum. Together, the two colors occupy the part of the visible light spectrum between 380 and 450 nanometers. Combined, the two colors are known as “high energy visible light.”
- It is this “high-energy visible light” — both violet and blue — that has come under scrutiny for its potential contribution to health effects such as digital eye strain and sleeping problems.
- So, technically, the conversation is not just about exposure to blue light; it’s about exposure to high energy blue and violet light. (But, to keep things simple, I’ll stick with references to blue light throughout.)
- Importantly, there is much more nuance around whether blue light is beneficial or harmful than eyeglasses companies would lead you to believe.
Is blue light bad for you?
Answer: The unqualified claim that blue light is harmful is misleading.
Blue light is, simply, one part of the spectrum of visible light. Blue light is part of the sun’s rays and is also emitted by some LEDs and other artificial lights.
In fact, literature points to some important benefits of blue light.
The benefits of blue light
During the day, blue light wavelengths are “beneficial…because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood,” according to the Harvard University’s Health Letter.
Blue light is the reason why people tell you to get out and walk around in the sunshine after getting off a red-eye.
Blue light is also thought to be beneficial in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, a temporary depression that corresponds with a lack of daylight in late fall, winter, and early spring.
“Harmful” blue light?
By blocking melatonin at night, however, exposure to blue light may inhibit your ability to become drowsy and fall asleep.
As the Harvard Health Letter also points out, some studies have gone so far as to link nighttime exposure to light with heart disease, certain cancers and more.
Blue light on phones and computers
Here’s why blue light has become such a hot topic:
We are exposed more frequently to blue light at all hours of the day thanks to our computers, televisions, tablets and cell phones, not to mention indoor lighting.
TVs, computer screens and phones are predominantly lit via LEDs, which emit light wavelengths of between 400–490 nm, which overlap with the range of “high energy visible light” in the blue and violet range.
Thus, if you look at a computer, TV, tablet or smartphone at night, while the light appears white, your eyes are exposed to high-energy visible light.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing during the day. And, by the way, we are likely exposed to more blue light by walking outside into the sunshine than by looking at our digital devices.
But by emitting blue light waves that block the production of melatonin at night, your phone, tablet, computer, TV and light bulbs may be inhibiting your ability to relax, become drowsy and fall asleep.
As I work from home, and find myself attached to my screen more at night, I know I’m exposing myself to more of those blue light waves closer to bedtime than I would otherwise.
Does blue light cause digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome?
There is some evidence that blue light can also contribute to temporary digital eye strain, computer vision syndrome or visual fatigue.
One study concluded that blue light from digital devices may contribute to symptoms of visual fatigue, “since blue light scatters in the eye, increasing the effort needed to maintain visual focus.”
At the same time, the study notes that “no evidence currently exists to suggest that the visible blue light emitted from digital devices is able to damage the eye.”
That said, given the amount of time I am on the computer these days, I’ll take any advantage I can against eye fatigue.
What are blue light blocking glasses?
So what do blue light blocking glasses do?
Blue light blocking glasses are meant to filter out the blue light wavelength before it reaches your eyes. In addition to a blue light filter, some companies’ lenses also include an anti-glare coating and/or UV protection to filter glare and ultra-violet rays.
Do blue light blocking glasses work?
It’s impossible to say whether blue light blocking glasses “work” without breaking down the claims made by those retailers who are trying to convince us that we need to buy them.
The reality is that the answer depends on the claim and the quality and features of the product. Here are three claims that I have seen made by blue light blocking glasses retailers:
- Claim 1: Blue light glasses reduce digital eyestrain.
- Claim 2: Blue light glasses improve sleep.
- Claim 3: Blue light glasses promote “healthy eyes.”
Let’s examine each of these claims in turn:
Claim 1: Blue light glasses reduce digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome
A common claim made by online retailers is that blue eye blocking glasses can reduce irritation, dry eyes and/or eye strain that is linked to the use of computers, tablets and phones.
Zenni Optical, one of my favorite places to buy super-cheap prescription glasses, cutely calls this phenomenon FryEye, though it is more commonly referred to as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.
(Not surprisingly, Zenni proposes a solution to FryEye via their Blokz blue light blocking lenses.)
Studies suggest that blue-light blocking glasses “may reduce eye strain associated with computer use based on a physiologic correlate of eye fatigue and on subjects’ reporting of symptoms typically associated with eye strain,” and could be used as a supplemental tool to prevent damage to the retina from blue light.
In addition to blocking blue light, some “blue light glasses” also have anti-glare coatings.
Glare is one of the factors that contributes to digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome, according to the American Optometric Association.
To the extent that blue light blocking glasses also include an anti-glare coating to reduce glare from phone and computer screens and other lighting sources, they may address one of the contributors to computer vision syndrome. (Note that many prescription eyeglass retailers offer anti-glare lens coatings independent of blue light filters.)
There are skeptics, however. Amid all of the hype and propaganda around the supposed benefits of blue light filtering glasses, Amanda Mull at the Atlantic wrote a provocatively titled piece on “The Bogus Science Behind Instagram’s New Glasses Trend.” She throws shade on blue light glasses as:
“the latest in a long line of fashion products masquerading as health aids in the anxiety economy of social media.”
Mull notes that digital eye strain could be caused by staring at anything for too long — like a book — without sufficient breaks.
She’s right about that: Digital eye strain can be caused by lots of non-digital activities, though I’d observe that books don’t emit blue light or reflect glare. As noted above, there are experts that suggest the presence of blue light and glare may contribute to digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome.
To the extent that blue light glasses filter out blue light and reduce glare, they may be a tool to reduce temporary eye strain or fatigue caused by your phone, tablet or computer.
That said, given that exposure during the daytime to blue light helps regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythms, it is possible that wearing glasses that are meant to block out blue light all day long might have other implications beyond an impact on digital eye strain.
How to reduce digital eye strain and computer vision syndrome without buying a pair of blue light glasses.
Health websites including WebMD, medical trade associations and even mobile phone companies like Samsung suggest a number of steps to help combat digital eye strain that don’t involve buying a new pair of blue light glasses:
- Adhere to the 20-20-20 method: For every 20 minutes you are staring at your screen, book, etc., pause and look at an object more than 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Rinse and repeat.
- Take longer breaks after 2 hours of work.
- Use eye-drops and/or a humidifier and/or switch from contacts to glasses to address eye dryness and irritation.
- Blink. (Seriously. Blink!)
- Sit with proper posture and look downward slightly at a screen placed a comfortable distance from your face.
- Reduce glare by using a computer screen filter.
- Enable Night Watch (on Apple iPhones, iPads and Macs) or night mode (on android devices).
Claim 2: Blue light glasses improve sleep.
Since blue light inhibits the body’s natural production of melatonin, which has a role in sleep, online retailers, like Ambr Eyewear, suggest that their blue light blocking glasses can “improve sleep.”
Even Mull of the Atlantic, who expressed skepticism of the benefits of blue light glasses, noted in her reporting that the glasses might be useful at night to intercept those melatonin-blocking blue light wavelengths and aid sleep. (She also points out that turning on Night Watch or your phone or computer’s night mode could accomplish the same thing.)
Claim 3: “Healthy Eyes”
Ambr Eyewear indicates on its website that one of the “benefits” of the their frames is “healthy eyes.” The company goes on to claim, without offering evidence or citations, that, “Blue light may damage eyes, even hasten blindness.”
I have not seen any evidence that blue light, and particularly the blue light from digital devices that companies including Ambr cite as “harmful,” hastens blindness or causes long-lasting or permanent damage to eyes. Please feel free to contact me with any evidence or leave your perspective in the comments below.
Do I need blue light blocking glasses?
After learning about the effects of blue light from phones at night, and the potential benefits of blue light blocking glasses, I decided there was at least a chance that they could be an effective tool in improving my ability to relax and sleep at night and potentially to help combat digital eye strain due to computer use during the day.
So, I moved onto the next step: Deciding whether to go with prescription blue light filtering glasses, readers or non-prescription computer glasses.
Prescription blue light blocking glasses vs. computer blue light blocking glasses
Having concluded that I wanted to try a pair of blue light blocking glasses, I faced another question: Should I try prescription blue light blocking glasses or (non-prescription) computer glasses?
This was a bit of a dilemma for me.
I have an astigmatism, a curvature of the cornea that essentially means my eyes are continually trying to focus. It doesn’t bother me all of the time, and I tend to wear glasses only while driving, reading at night and while using the computer at work. That means that, during the day while looking at the computer, I would want my prescription as well as blue light blocking lenses. But at home sitting on the couch watching TV or reading on my tablet, I probably wouldn’t need the prescription built in.
So I went down another rabbit hole and looked at an array of alternatives to buy prescription blue light glasses and nonprescription “computer glasses.”
Here’s what I found:
Where to buy prescription blue light blocking glasses
It turns out companies everywhere are jumping on the blue light bandwagon. These are the companies I looked at when deciding whether to order prescription blue light filtering glasses:
- Liingo Eyewear offers a lens upgrade for $59 to “Bluelight + DuraSeal HD” for filtering blue light and reducing glare. Liingo is one of more than a dozen companies that offers a home-try on program for glasses to rival Warby Parker.
- Eyebuydirect offers two different “digital protection” lenses. EDBBLUE provides an anti-glare coating, “standard” blue light filter and UV coating. SIGHTRELAX adds a “premium,” clearer blue light filter and “reading enhancement,” which, they claim (though do not provide any evidence to support) “improves your screen time and increases your comfort by helping your eyes to relax while you read.” (I’d love to see the science behind that.) A complete pair of EDBBLUE glasses starts at $25. A complete pair of SIGHTRELAX spectacles starts at $35.
- Zenni Optical offers “Blokz” blue light filtering lenses for a charge of $16.95 on top of the cost of a complete pair of glasses, which starts at $6.95.
- Warby Parker has gotten in on the blue light action. You can add blue light filtering lenses for $50 on top of the cost of a complete pair of glasses, which start at $95.
- Costco — I love Costco, but unfortunately they don’t sell prescription eyewear online. You can go to a Costco Warehouse, where frames (only) start at $49.99, plus you will pay an additional $65 for single vision lenses. Costco offers a “blue light coating” at no charge according to the nice woman I spoke with at the eyeglass counter. I often see coupons for Costco to take $40 off a complete second pair of glasses.
- Ambr Eyewear sells prescription blue light glasses from $137.
- Felix Gray offers prescription blue light glasses from $145.
- Gunnar offers a range of prescription glasses and has built quite a reputation for gaming and computer glasses (more on that below).
- LensCrafters offers BlueIQ lenses that filter out blue light rays.
Where to buy blue light readers and nonprescription computer glasses
There are seemingly endless options when it comes to buying non-prescription or reader glasses with blue light blocking or filtering features. After a while, I gave up trying to be comprehensive and focused on several options that kept popping up in the course of my research:
- Ambr Eyewear offers non-prescription blue light glasses from $62 and readers from $87.
- MVMT, the minimalist startup, which started out making gorgeous, simple watches for men and women, makes “everscroll” blue light canceling glasses that retail from $75.
- Felix Gray sells readers and non-prescription glasses from $95
- Diff Eyewear offers non-prescription blue light blocking eyeglasses from $85.
- Gunnar – In addition to offering prescription lenses, Gunnar offers a range of blue light blocking solutions for gaming, computing, reading, and the sun. Gunnar filed a patent application for Eyewear for reducing Computer Vision Syndrome, which goes into great detail about how the design of its glasses provide unique solutions. For example, they emphasize that their wraparound computer glasses minimize air flow from HVAC systems to address a cause of dry eyes. It’s super-detailed but fascinating to read.
Blue light glasses on Amazon
On Amazon, there is an entire universe of computer glasses with blue light features. You can really fall down a rabbit hole looking at brands and reviews. Here are a couple of options for finding cheap blue light computer glasses on Amazon:
I chose prescription blue light blocking glasses over non-prescription computer glasses or readers.
In the end, I decided to go with blue light blocking glasses with a prescription built in. Much of my eye strain (digital or otherwise) is caused by my astigmatism. I wanted to neutralize that factor in attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of blue light blockers.
I chose to go with Liingo Eyewear, as I wanted to test out their home try-on program and get a better look at their frames that I had been stalking for months.
Full disclosure: Liingo Eyewear provided a pair of glasses, including their Bluelight + DuraSeal HD lenses, at no cost for the purpose of a review.
My experience with blue light blocking and anti-glare glasses from Liingo Eyewear
I have been wearing Liingo’s bluelight glasses for months now. I have worn them at the computer during the day, and then again at night while watching TV and reading before bed.
On purpose, I broke my rule to not glance at my phone 30 minutes before bedtime. I know that looking at my phone, computer or ipad right before bed makes me loose my sleepiness.
So, to test, I made myself look at my phone before bed with Liingo’s glasses on. It made a difference. I have found myself having less trouble falling asleep after looking at my phone with the glasses on.
During the day, I did not notice a big difference with respect to reducing digital eye strain, however.
My experience at night makes me believe that the glasses play a role in filtering out the blue light rays that would otherwise inhibit my body’s ability to produce melatonin.
They also make me more conscious of my screen time (though also provide a perverse incentive to look at your phone before bed).
Conclusion: Do blue light blocking glasses work for me?
Look: It’s extremely difficult to pinpoint the causes of eye strain, eye damage and the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It’s even more difficult for someone (like me) who has an astigmatism or other issues with vision, migraines, health issues, etc, to disentangle the effects of those conditions from blue light and glare.
Eyeglass companies are able to take advantage of these extremely muddy waters by simply promising the hope of improved sleep and less eye strain.
That said, I don’t think these companies are selling snake oil.
I will say this:
- After trying blue light glasses for months now, and after reading a pile of studies, expert opinions, sales pitches and influencer reviews, I’m convinced that blue light blocking glasses provide at least a marginal but important benefit to me.
- Specifically, I believe blue light blocking glasses provide a particular benefit to make sure that the blue light from my phone doesn’t keep me amped up at night, and I am able to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- I would not run out to replace all of my prescription lenses with blue light filters.
- I also don’t personally think it’s a good idea to block out blue light all day, given the benefits of blue light for alertness, mood and regulating your circadian rhythms. (I definitely need as much sunshine as I can get in the winter.)
- But when I obtain new pairs of prescription glasses to put on my bedside table or to keep next to my computer, I definitely plan to put blue light filters in those new frames.
Since I wrote this original piece, the world has changed significantly as the result of the COVID19 crisis.
I’m buying more pairs of glasses to keep scattered around the house, in reach of the various pieces of technology we are using for work and school, and I’m putting blue-light and anti-glare technology in all of them.
At the end of each day, my eyes are bleary, and I’m taking every step I can to minimize eye strain.
What has your experience been with blue light blocking glasses?
I’d love to hear about other experiences with blue light blocking glasses. Did they work for you? What brand do you like the best? Share your perspective in the comments section.
Pin me please: A Skeptic’s Guide to Blue Light Blocking Glasses
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About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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