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Facing the Consequences: New Chem Research

Before you zap away that pimple or take care of those extra wrinkles, stop and think about the possible consequences — to your eyes. Chemistry and biochemistry professor, Heidi Vollmer-Snarr, along with Daniel Walker and Lee Eberting (former BYU undergrads), recently published an article reviewing the negative effects of dermatology lights used in phototherapy.

Dermatologists use blue-light therapy to treat a number of different skin conditions.

“It’s used for everything from acne to cancer. Blue-light has sort of become the cure-all for dermatology,” Vollmer-Snarr said.

Although blue-light therapy has been successful in treating skin conditions, Vollmer-Snarr’s research shows that excessive exposure to blue light damages cells in the eye’s retina that are crucial to vision. The damage is extremely problematic because these cells cannot be replaced.

“We’ve shown that that when you expose [eyes] to blue light . . . there is a lot of damage. The result of this damage is that the cells are no longer viable,” she said.

The loss of cells can lead to vision problems such as macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. The deterioration of the eye tissue caused by macular degeneration affects the center of the retina, which is responsible for central high acuity vision. Vollmer-Snarr explained that central vision is crucial for every day activities.

“It’s what you use to look into someone’s face,” she said. “It is imperative for driving, reading and having good vision in general. Once your central vision is impaired, your vision really goes downhill.”

Despite blue light’s negative effects, our eyes do offer some protection. Naturally occurring antioxidants counteract damage from blue light.

“You are exposed to [blue light] every day. The problem comes when we begin to be exposed to larger amounts than simply walking outside,” Vollmer-Snarr said.

Blue-light therapy’s growing popularity worries Vollmer-Snarr. She wrote her article to raise awareness and inform the public about what they can do to protect themselves. The solution? Use protective eyewear and use it correctly.

Vollmer-Snarr says she isn’t advising people against receiving blue-light treatments — only to take the necessary precautions.

“The moral of the story is go ahead and use this therapy,” she said, “but just be smart about it.”

By Stacie Carnley Posted on