Could using smartphone or tablet give you skin cancer?
MOBILE phones, tablets and laptops could trigger skin cancer by reflecting the sun’s harmful Ultra Violet (UV) rays, scientists have warned.
The findings of a new study have prompted researchers to advise people wear sun cream, sunglasses and even to cover their faces and necks if using their phones outside.
While tests were on mannequins rather than people, experts said the research raises an important practical point. The study is reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Co-author of the study, Mary Logue of the University of New Mexico, said: “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.”
The researchers were compelled to investigate the issue after noting the similarities between the devices and old-fashioned tanning reflectors, Dr. Logue told Reuters Health.
Her team set up a mannequin head wearing a UVA/B light metre and faced it towards a standard musician’s sheet music stand. They then placed various mobile devices on the stand.
In two trials, the researchers recorded UV readings for an hour of exposure, from 11am to noon. They used a magazine, an iPhone5, various iPad models, two Macbook laptops and a Kindle e-reader.
In the first experiment all the devices were positioned 16.5 inches from the UV sensor. For the second, they were secured 12.25 inches away. Researchers angled the devices and the UV sensor to mimic an adult looking down at the device.
The study team measured UVA/B dose exposure from light reflected by the devices in joules per square centimetre, over one hour and compared that to the UV readings with an empty sheet stand.
In the first experiment, when the devices were further away from the mannequin, an open magazine increased UV dosage exposure by 46 per cent, compared with the music stand alone. An iPad2 increased exposure by around 85 per cent and an 11-inch Macbook increased UV exposure by 75 per cent.
Researchers note it was only in the second trial, where devices were ‘held’ closer to the mannequin’s ‘face’ that the iPhone5 was used, and was found to increase exposure by 36 per cent. Logue said: “The harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays have been well documented, and limiting exposure is the single most effective preventative measure an individual can take. “Significant levels of UV exposure, such as those found in this study, increase cumulative lifetime UV dosage.”
She said given the increase in UV exposure, more research must be conducted to see if skin cancer risk is affected. “While the best course of action is to limit smart device usage to the indoors, this is obviously impractical for most people,” Logue advised. “We recommend covering the shoulders, wearing sunglasses and wearing sunscreen, especially on the exposed areas of the neck and face.”
She suggested the devices themselves could be redesigned to be less reflective, or to include UV sensor technology so users can track their exposure.
Dr. Robert Dellavalle, chief of the Dermatology Service at the Denver VA Medical Center, who was not part of the new study, said that while the research did not involve real people using the devices, it raised a practical point. In real world use, it may be hard to see phone or tablet screens in full sun, and using them may actually encourage shade-seeking behaviour, he added.
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