© 2020 Duke et al. Blue wavelength light is used as an optical actuator in numerous optogenetic technologies employed in neuronal systems. However, the potential side effects of blue light in neurons has not been thoroughly explored, and recent reports suggest that neuronal exposure to blue light can induce transcriptional alterations in vitro and in vivo. Here, we examined the effects of blue wavelength light in cultured primary rat cortical cells. Exposure to blue light (470 nm) resulted in upregulation of several immediate early genes (IEGs) traditionally used as markers of neuronal activity, including Fos and Fosb, but did not alter the expression of circadian clock genes Bmal1, Cry1, Cry2, Clock, or Per2. IEG expression was increased following 4 h of 5%duty cycle light exposure, and IEG induction was not dependent on light pulse width. Elevated levels of blue light exposure induced a loss of cell viability in vitro, suggestive of overt phototoxicity. Induction of IEGs by blue light was maintained in cortical cultures treated with AraC to block glial proliferation, indicating that induction occurred selectively in postmitotic neurons. Importantly, changes in gene expression induced by blue wavelength light were prevented when cultures were maintained in a photoinert media supplemented with a photostable neuronal supplement instead of commonly utilized neuronal culture media and supplements. Together, these findings suggest that light-induced gene expression alterations observed in vitro stem from a phototoxic interaction between commonly used media and neurons, and offer a solution to prevent this toxicity when using photoactivatable technology in vitro.