The Health Benefits of E Ink Screens Has Been Greatly Exaggerated


Onyx-Max3-E-Ink-Monitor

There’s been a growing narrative surrounding the use of E Ink screens that suggests that they are a healthier alternative to the light-emitting screens that we use everyday with our phones, TVs, computer monitors, and tablets.

Some companies that sell E Ink products have jumped on this trend and have started making claims that E Ink screens are healthier for our eyes because they don’t emit blue light.

Now E Ink (the company) has started up with the blue-light-is-damaging-people’s-eye propaganda as well.

Here are a couple of examples:

When Onyx announced their new E Ink phone as CES, this statement stood out in the announcement:

Most folks experience eyestrain caused by excessive phone use. The prevalence of myopia and high myopia are increasing globally at an alarming rate, especially for children and teenagers. The last few years have seen a massive revolution in E Ink technology. Soon there will be an E Ink phone that can be used as a general phone, and with it you will not get eyestrain even you frequently use it for a long time because E Ink display does not emit blue light to your eyes…

So are we supposed to believe that E Ink screens can help mitigate myopia now? That’s a new one.

The bottom line is you can get eyestrain from staring at anything for too long. You can get eyestrain from reading a paper book for too long without taking a break. It’s not like eyestrain is limited to using LCD devices only.

Eyestrain can often be avoided by giving your eyes breaks between long reading sessions, lowering screen brightness, using eye drops, etc.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen E Ink (the company) making such bold claims about their screens, but then in a recent press release about their new color screens, there’s this:

More importantly, for reading intensive applications, as E Ink displays are reflective, and not emissive, long form reading and writing are benefited because ePaper does not emit blue light, which can damage the retina and disturb sleep patterns.

So not only are they pointing out that blue light can affect sleep patterns, they’re now upping the ante by adding in blue light causes retina damage, thus insinuating E Ink screens are a healthier option.

Whether they’re right or wrong isn’t even the point. It’s the fact that there’s zero scientific evidence to support the concept that E Ink screens are healthier for our eyes than LCD screens.

You can’t go around claiming your product offers health benefits over a competing product with no proof. That’s edging on snake oil territory.

If they’re going to keep claiming that E Ink screens are healthier for our eyes than LCD screens, eventually they’re going to have to get some proof of that.

Despite all the recent claims that blue light is bad, there is no evidence to support that it causes any kind of long-term damage to people’s eyes with the small amount of light emitted from everyday devices like phones, tablets, and computer monitors. Ask an eye doctor if there’s any risk of permanent eye damage from using LCD screens and they will tell you no, not unless you’re planning on jabbing the screen into your eye.

Some studies have shown that blue light can have an affect on your circadian rhythm, but another recent study shows that blue light may be better than warm light at night. The science is still iffy on the whole blue light subject, especially in regards to the devices we use every day, so it’s too early to start claiming health benefits either way.

13 Responses to “The Health Benefits of E Ink Screens Has Been Greatly Exaggerated”

  1. Blue light can affect circadian rhythms, and studies involving nocturnal animals who do not use fire do not challenge this. Blue light has a different significance for humans than it has for mice. However, the circadian rhythm is not affected only by light. If it were, jet lag wouldn’t be a big problem, because people would easily adapt to day/night times in the new timezone. Reading on screens that emit light instead of reflecting it does seem to contribute to eyestrain. While bright light might cause more glare, which may cause more eyestrain, I don’t think the hue of the light affects the chances of getting eyestrain. So, I agree that some exaggerated claims are being made.

  2. If you mean the difference between front and backlight is unsubstantiated then I agree. However, there is evidence that a back-lit LCD screen does indeed trigger higher visual fatigue.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3873942/

  3. Using both devices in my reading routine iPad Pro and Boox NotePro I can speak of own experience. Blue light or not – I just noticed there is no eye strain and no this annoying itchy dry eyes issue, which I suffered for a long time reading on iPad, anymore, since I started to read on the EINK screen. Whether it is healthier or not to read from the EINK in comparison to LCD I cannot claim, it is a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience at least in my case, though.

    • I agree, Julia. I don’t necessarily care what the studies show. Reading on a Kindle is a much more comfortable reading experience for me than reading on a backlit/LED/blue-light screen.

      • I think a lot of people would agree that it is more comfortable to read on E Ink screens, myself included, but to claim they’re better because reading on other types of displays causes eye damage is a different story.

    • Wouldn’t that also depend on your brightness settings? You can’t turn ipad’s light off, while on eink you turn on light only when needed.

  4. I think any claims of eye damage due to blue light are dubious at best. I don’t think any reading device (e-reader, tablet, phone) can produce light bright enough to damage ones eyes. The claims of blue light effecting ones sleep have a better foundation though as with any health related claim, the effects will vary widely as ones genetics and general health will have an effect. More independent studies need to be done, but I believe that e-ink screens cause less eye strain and less disruption of the nervous system due to the way they operate. With CRT or LCD display technology, the display is always scanning, even if the image being shown is static. Though you don’t perceive this to be the case, it is. This applies to tablets, phones, televisions, and computer monitors. It is this scanning that can result in eye strain and disruption of the nervous system. Also, the flickering of the light exhibited by some devices will have a similar effect. This would apply to a back light OR a front light which is why the front light on the Kobo Forma is a mystery. Using a technology the causes flicker, even if most people can’t see it, defeats the advantage of the e-Ink screen.

  5. An excellent article Nathan – great to see your objectivity even though your site surveys e-ink devices. It’s common sense anyway – if eink was some magic bullet for eye strain/preventing certain eye conditions, the likes of Apple/Microsoft/optometrists etc. would be all over it.

    Just talk to your optician/optometrist about eye strain etc. and the use of any type of screen or any activity that requires long periods of staring at a fixed focal length.
    Interestingly a study at Manchester University have found that at certain times blue light may even be beneficial – http://bit.ly/2RWGbu

  6. Reading on my KindleFireHD tablet causes me less eye strain than when I tried to read on the Paperwhite fuzzy screen. This is why I got rid of the latter and got a Voyage for myself, which is the only e-reader coming anywhere close to the LCD’s clarity and contrast. The E Ink display technology is a hugely overrated while being horrendously underdeveloped and has no future.

  7. I read faster on e-ink. Is this just me? I have dyslexia & some vision problems, and a strong glasses prescription. I just tried reading again on my pretty standard desktop screen, which is 120hz, and it’s pretty terrible, even when I play around with different colors etc. I can read way faster if something is printed on a piece of paper, or a book printed on regular paper, or on e-ink. Somehow, computer/phone/tablet screens seem to “shimmer”. Just about as awful is glossy pages like in magazines or modern textbooks (they also have a talent for selecting the world’s most obnoxious fonts).

    My OLED phone seems a lot better in that respect, “shimmer”, but e-ink seems substantially better to me (I haven’t tested my speed on OLED, though).

  8. I used to read on my Fire before I caved in and tried an E-ink screen. I would always get headaches after a few hours of reading on the Fire and mainly stuck to books as a result. Once I tried the e-ink, problem vanished. I can read hours on them without headaches in comparison to the fire. I’m not sure on the blue light argument with this, but I do know the e-ink strains my eyes less in comparison.