Mobile Devices Could Increase Skin Cancer Risk, Study Shows

Newly published research shows that electronic devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops can increase the user’s skin cancer risk by increasing exposure to cancer-causing wavelengths when the devices are used outdoors.

Mary E. Logue of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, who coauthored the research with Dr. Barrett J. Zlotoff, said it is easy to overlook electronic devices’ “reflective properties unless you happen to catch the glare off a screen,” Reuters reports.

The starting point for Logue and Zlotoff ‘s study was the question of whether portable electronic devices with reflective screens posed skin health risks as do tanning reflector, Logue told Reuters Health. Logue and Zlotoff conducted their small observational study in a field in Albuquerque. They used a mannequin head equipped with a UVA/UVB light meter and they positioned the head facing a music stand on which they placed mobile devices including an iPhone5, iPad models, two MacBook laptops, a Kindle e-reader, and, for comparison, a magazine.

In two trials, the research team recorded UV readings for exposure between 11 AM and noon with the devices at two distances from the mannequin head. In the first trial the devices were 16.5 inches from the UV sensor; in the second trial, they were 12.25 inches away. The researchers angled the devices and the UV sensor to mimic an adult looking down at a handheld device. In each trial, the researchers measured UVA/B dose exposure from light reflected by the devices in Joules per square centimeter over one hour and compared that to the UV readings with an empty music stand.

In the first trial, when the devices were further away from the mannequin, an open magazine increased UV dosage exposure by 46 percent compared to the empty stand; an iPad increased exposure by about 85 percent and an 11-inch MacBook increased UV exposure by 75 percent. The iPhone 5 was used only in the second trial, where the devices were positioned closer to the mannequin’s “face.” The iPhone increased UV exposure by 36 percent, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, where the study was published this month.

“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.” She said further research needs to be done to see if the added exposure affects skin cancer risk, according to Reuters. The best course of action, Logue said, “is to limit smart device usage to the indoors,” though she acknowledged this is “obviously impractical” for most devices users. Logue recommends “covering the shoulders, wearing sunglasses and wearing sunscreen, especially on the exposed areas of the neck and face,” according to Reuters. And Logue suggested the devices themselves could be redesigned to be less reflective, or to include UV sensor technology to allow users to track their exposure.

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