The Truth About What Your Computer Could Be Doing to Your Skin

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on September 15, 2015 • views: 1502

Computer SunWe talked about what your computer could be doing to your face in a previous post.

Now, it’s time to reveal the truth about what it can do to your skin.

Use gadgets like computers, tablets, and smartphones in the sun and you could be increasing your risk of skin cancer.


Researchers Want to Know: Can Gadgets Affect Our Skin?

For a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the University of Mexico wanted to see what effect (if any) our technical gadgets could be having on our skin.

Skin cancer is already the most common cancer in the U.S., affecting 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The more aggressive and dangerous form—invasive melanoma—is expected to be the fifth most common cancer among men and the seventh most common in women in 2015.

The problem is UV radiation—that which comes from the sun. It’s the main cause of skin cancer, which is why we’re always advised to use sunscreen.

But sunscreen may not be enough when it comes to protecting ourselves from our gadgets.

Computers Could Increase Risk of Skin Cancer

To find out just how much indirect UV light we may be exposed to when staring at our devices, researchers placed a UV sensor on a mannequin’s head, right between the eyes. Then they placed the mannequin in front of a music stand with a gadget (computer, tablet, phone) on it.

Finally, they measured the amount of UV exposure on the mannequin’s face. Measurements took place in the middle of the day, when the sun was its brightest.

Results showed the following:

  • Reading a magazine increased UV dosage by 46 percent. (Yes, even magazines are reflective!)
  • Staring at a laptop computer increased UV dosage by 75 percent.
  • Using an iPad 2 increased UV dosage by 85 percent.
  • Using a smart phone increased UV dosage by about 36 percent.

“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,” said study author Mary E. Logue of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. “Significant levels of UV exposure, such as those found in this study, increase cumulative lifetime UV dosage.”

She added: “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.”

Protect Your Skin from Your Computer

We need more studies to be sure, but if this study proves correct, that means that we could be increasing our risk for skin cancer significantly every time we use our devices outside. (Don’t rely on your sunscreen to protect you for long, particularly with those UV dose increases.)

What can we do? The researchers suggested these options:

  • Use the devices indoors only
  • Cover your shoulders from the sun
  • Use sunglasses or UV-protective glasses (Gunnars glasses protect you from computer glare and UV radiation—find more about them here)
  • Wear sunscreen (but realize it usually wears off within a couple hours of application so if you’re out for awhile, reapply)
  • Get into the shade where the reflection will be lessened

The researchers also suggested that device designers make the screens less reflective, or add UV sensors to them so they can tell you how much exposure you’re getting. (Nothing like having your gadget tell you you’re getting too much sun, eh?)

That won’t happen for awhile, though, so in the meantime, be careful!

Best bet—when you’re outside, put the gadgets away and enjoy the view!

What do you think about this study? Do you use your computer outside? Please share your thoughts.

Mary E. Logue, Barrett J. Slotoff, “Reflections on smart phones, tablets, and ultraviolet (UV) light: should we worry?” JAMA, September 2015; 73(3): 526-528,

Kathryn Doyle, “Could mobile devices increase skin cancer risk?” Reuters, September 3, 2015,

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Comments (1)

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  1. Chere Hagopian says:

    Wow, good to know! I generally only use my phone and occasionally my Kindle outside. But they are reflective, and it never occurred to me that they might increase sun damage. I’ll be more careful! Thanks!