Eyecare providers criticized for blue light claims

November 16, 2016
Laird Harrison
Laird Harrison

Optical services chains in the United Kingdom are misleading customers about filters to screen out blue light from electronic devices, according to the BBC. Boots Opticians and Vision Express both claim that the filters protect against retinal damage despite a lack of evidence, the news service said in a recent press release.

Optical services chains in the United Kingdom are misleading customers about filters to screen out blue light from electronic devices, according to the BBC.

Boots Opticians and Vision Express both claim that the filters protect against retinal damage despite a lack of evidence, the news service said in a recent press release.

The BBC sent members of its investigative team, One Watchdog, to pose as customers shopping for spectacles in 5 branches of each of the chains.

“Undercover video footage shows dispensing opticians making unproven health claims about the effects of blue light including eye strain, fatigue, headaches and drowsiness,” the BBC said in a press release.

The team counted six health claims reported across these ten stores that experts have told the programme are not backed up with evidence.

“In some branches of Boots, dispensing opticians can be seen providing frightening advice about blue light from electronic devices, claiming that it can cause serious harm to our eyes,” the BBC reports.

“In fact, one Boots branch made a severe claim stating that the ‘dangerous’ blue violet light kills the retinal cells at the back of your eyes,” the press release says.

According to the BBC, Boots offered to sell its Protect Plus Blue lenses for an extra £70 and Vision Express offered a similar product for an extra £50.

Upheld complaints

 

Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints about the marketing of such filters by Boots.

The ASA cited a national press ad, seen on 24 January 2015, that stated “Many modern gadgets, whether it’s a fancy LED TV or your smartphone, as well as sunlight and energy-saving light bulbs, give off a certain kind of blue light that can cause your retinal cells to deteriorate over time.”

In the ad, Boots promised to "help you protect your eyes from harmful blue light, reducing damage to retinal cells” with a £70 “special finish that filters out the harmful blue light and eases eye strain and fatigue.”

The ASA noted that exposure to blue light emitted from electronic devices is significantly less than exposure to blue light in sunshine.

Boots submitted an epidemiological study suggesting that sunlight might be a risk factor for the early onset of age-related macular degeneration, the agency noted. But this fell short of the ASA standard of evidence, which requires a “full trial” with human subjects showing damage from blue light from electronic devices.

“Therefore, because the evidence was not sufficient to establish a direct link between harmful blue light and retinal damage over time, we concluded that the claims were misleading and had not been substantiated,” the agency concluded.

“We told Boots Opticians Ltd not to make claims that blue light caused retinal damage or that their Protect Plus Lenses filtered out a meaningful amount of harmful blue light in the absence of adequate substantiation.”

The BBC also cited an interview with John B. O'Hagan, of the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England in Chilton, UK.

O’Hagan told the news service that blue light from electronic devices “was less than 1% of the safe level which isn’t remotely dangerous.”

Study assessed blue light emission

 

In a study published in the journal Eye (2016 Feb;30(2):230-3), O’Hagan and his colleagues assessed blue light emission from electronic devices including light bulbs, computers and tablets. “None of the sources assessed approached the exposure limits, even for extended viewing times,” they concluded.

But the optical chains defended their marketing of the filters. “There is a growing body of clinical evidence to support our position that exposure to some wavelengths of blue light may, over the long term, be harmful to the eye and these impacts are only just beginning to be understood,” Boots said, in a statement provided by the BBC.

“Our Protect Plus Blue Lenses reduce exposure to harmful blue light by up to 20% and should be considered, together with the effects of diet, smoking and family history on future eye health. The promotional materials relating to these lenses were approved by Trading Standards.”

Boots added that “where we may not have given the correct advice, we will work with our teams so they can explain the benefits of Protect Plus Blue lenses more clearly.”

Vision Express took a slightly different tack. “We have never claimed that blue light causes retinal damage and have, therefore, never claimed that our lenses prevent retinal damage,” the company said in its own statement. “Our recommendation of blue filter lenses is based on their ability to improve contrast for better visual performance and comfort, with a filter which can help reduce eye strain.”