Study: Using Mobile Devices in the Sun Increases Exposure to Sun’s UV Rays

Study: Using Mobile Devices in the Sun Increases Exposure to Sun’s UV Rays
Technology & Health

We’ve known for several years now that studies have linked brain cancer to the use of cell phones, but could using your favorite handheld device outside on a sunny day increase your risk of skin cancer?

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops all reflect the sun’s UV rays, possibly indirectly raising users’ skin cancer risk, recent research suggests. In fact, too much UV radiation is a major risk factor for most skin cancers. Two scientists set out to determine whether the skin cancer risks posed by mobile devices were similar to the risks reportedly posed by tanning beds.

“These devices are generally used for communication or entertainment, so it can be easy to overlook their reflective properties unless you happen to catch the glare off a screen,” said Mary E. Logue of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, who coauthored the research with Dr. Barrett J. Zlotoff.

Logue and Zlotoff conducted a small observational study on an Albuquerque field that included setting up a mannequin head wearing a UVA/B meter facing towards a standard musician’s sheet stand. The researchers then placed various mobile devices on the stand.

In two trials, the researchers recorded UV readings for an hour of exposure, from 11 a.m. to noon, using a magazine, an iPhone 5, various iPad models, two Macbook laptops, and a Kindle e-reader. The devices were 16.5 inches apart from the UV sensor in the first trial, and they were 12.25 inches apart for the second trial. The devices were set up to mimic an adult looking down at them.

Using Joules per square centimeter, researchers measured UVA/B dose exposure from light reflected by the wireless devices over the course of an hour and compared the measurements to the UV readings with an empty sheet stand.

In the first trial, Logue and Zlotoff found that an open magazine increased the UV dosage exposure by 46% compared to the sheet stand alone. The amount of exposure increased 85% when an iPad was used, and UV exposure increased 75% when an 11-inch Macbook was used. [1]

For the second trial, in which the devices were held closer to the mannequin’s “face,” UV exposure increased by 36%.

“The harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays have been well documented, and limiting exposure is the single most effective preventive measure an individual can take,” Logue said. “Significant levels of UV exposure, such as those found in this study, increase cumulative lifetime UV dosage.”

Logue acknowledged that it’s impractical for most people to limit their handheld device usage to indoors, but said people could still take the preventative steps of covering their shoulders, and wearing sunglasses and sunscreen, especially on the exposed areas of the neck and face.

She added that more research needs to be done on how much the increased UV exposure impacts skin cancer risk, and suggested that manufacturers could redesign the devices to make them less reflective, or to include UV sensor technology that allows users to track their exposure.

The real question is this: is this something we should really be worrying about?

[1] Yahoo News