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New Study Shows Mobile Devices Could Increase Skin Cancer Risk

Sep 11, 2015

According to a new study, devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops can reflect ultraviolet light from the sun and may indirectly increase the user's exposure to the cancer-causing wavelengths.

"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. Reuters reports.

Logue and Zlotoff wondered whether devices with reflective screens could pose skin health risks like tanning reflectors do, Logue told Reuters Health. Logue and Zlotoff conducted a small observational study in a grassy field in Albuquerque. They set up a mannequin head equipped with a UVA/UVB light meter and positioned it facing a music stand on which they placed mobile devices including an iPhone5, various iPad models, two MacBook laptops, a Kindle e-reader, and a magazine.

In two trials, the researchers recorded UV readings for exposure between 11 AM and noon. In the first trial the devices were 16.5 inches from the UV sensor. For the second, they were 12.25 inches away. The devices and the UV sensor were angled to mimic an adult looking down at a handheld device. The study team 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 iPad2 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 research 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.

"While the best course of action is to limit smart device usage to the indoors, this is obviously impractical for most people," Logue said. "We recommend covering the shoulders, wearing sunglasses and wearing sunscreen, especially on the exposed areas of the neck and face."

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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