Grimes has a well-established reputation for saying and doing outrageous things, from claiming that she’s tried singing in Dothraki or as a vampire mobster to teasing that her upcoming album, Miss_Anthropocene, is about a “psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/ beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world,” who is, of course, “composed of Ivory and Oil.”
And then there’s the headlines she made this week about her intense workout regimen while announcing that she’s the face of the upcoming Stella McCartney Adidas campaign. The intense routine reportedly includes sword-fighting, sensory deprivation “astro-gliding” scream therapy and an alleged eye surgery that raised some serious questions. The “We Appreciate Power” singer said that she “eliminated all blue light from my vision through an experimental surgery that removes the top film of my eyeball and replaces it with an orange ultra-flex polymer” as a means of curing seasonal depression.
Is that a thing? Billboard reached out to Dr. Sunir J. Garg, a retina surgeon and professor of ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia to find out if Grimes is on to something with her unusual “cure” for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects between 1.4 and 9.7 percent of Americans. “The blue light concern has kind of taken on a life of its own, mostly on the Internet from non-ophthalmologists,” says Garg, who notes that the topic of blue light’s potential to damage eyeballs is not something that typically comes up at ophthalmlogical society meetings.
“We don’t know where this came from,” he says. In fact, the amount of blue light that is present in the sun is “way, way more” that you could get from the screen of your smart phone or tablet, a subject that has become a fixation for many thanks to an avalanche of articles about the reported effects of blue light from screens on sleep cycles. The reality, though, according to Garg, is that humans have been exposed to blue light since life began on Earth and the sudden concern about it is “overblown” at best.
“The only thing from a clinical perspective that blue light might impact is circadian rhythms and sleep cycles… but in terms of ocular health right now we have no clinical data that it will damage a person’s eyeball,” he says. There have been, however, some lab experiments on animals that blasted them with a much higher dose of blue light than any normal human would get in their life that showed signs that it could cause problems.
Which brings us to Grimes’ alleged experimental eye surgery; a spokesperson for the singer could not be reached for comment at press time to confirm the veracity of her claims about the procedure. “Nobody should do any of this stuff at home,” says Garg, who has no first-hand knowledge of the alleged procedure Grimes described. From what he can tell, it appears the singer was working on the top layer of the eye, the cornea, which has a superficial skin layer called the epithelium that your typical contact lens would rest upon.
“If I were to guess, I think what she was doing was trying to scrape off that top surface layer of the epithelium, which would be like taking your fingernail and scratching your eyeball, which would hurt uncontrollably,” he says. “I’m not sure what she was doing without causing herself severe pain … and then putting a polymer on an eyeball is something that nobody should do.”
All the devices that professionals put on corneas have gone through extensive testing and are designed to possibly block some types of light, Garg says, adding that the cornea has to have a certain amount of oxygen and be appropriately moist in order to have the highest-quality vision. “If a person is putting a polymer on there, or superglue, it could potentially damage those superficial cells,” he says. “Many times it’ll function like a burn, a chemical injury to the surface of the eye, and the eye can heal some of those injuries. But some of them will cause permanent scarring on the surface of the cornea and can make people’s vision blurry and require more true, fairly extensive surgery to try and rehabilitate their eyeballs.”
The bottom line? “This is truly out there,” he says. “And nobody should be doing that at all and there’s no data behind it that it could be useful and it’s potentially only harmful.” Garg, who grew up in Michigan where SAD is a serious concern in the long, dark winter months, says the typical cure is actually more bright light exposure that mimics the spectrum of light you would get from the sun. So, if anything, removing one of the wavelengths of light present in the sun that over the course of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution humans have adapted to won’t be helpful and might even make it worse.
“She may live in LA where it’s not such a big deal,” he says. “But you don’t want to take away what little sun you get in the first place.”