What Mobile Phones Do to Your Skin

Was this helpful?
(89)
Woman on mobile phone drinking coffee

It  shouldn’t surprise you to learn that your phone isn’t the cleanest thing around. Think about it: you take it almost everywhere you go: to the kitchen, the movies, and even (admit it) to the bathroom. You pass your phone to friends and strangers alike to show baby and vacation photos, and you accidentally drop it everywhere from parking lots to doctor’s offices. Then you pick it up, pray the screen didn’t break—and put it right against your cheek to make a call. From bacteria to burns, your cell phone can be less than kind to your face. By understanding how your phone affects your skin, you can take steps to keep skin healthy (and really ace that selfie).

Bacterial Infections and Irritation

We all drop our phones in unsavory places—and wiping them off on our jeans isn’t quite enough to sanitize them afterwards. In one study, 92% of participants admitted they were aware their phones had bacteria on them, but only 38% reported that they actually cleaned their phones at least every week.

The fact is millions of bacteria call your phone “home, sweet home.” This is even more likely for women, who are more likely to share their phones with others, which increases the chance of collecting bacteria, and who often carry their phones in purses, giving bacteria a dark, hot place to breed. The germs on your phone probably won’t make you physically sick, but strains of E. coli and Staphylococci aren’t uncommon—and the flu virus can live on your phone for several days. Worse, a study in the United Kingdom found that one in six mobile phones has fecal matter on it. Pressing your phone against your face allows any bacteria on the surface to mix with sweat, oils and makeup—a perfect recipe for acne or other skin irritations.

Kick germs off your phone by cleaning it every few days with an antibacterial wipe. Most phone manufacturers recommend purchasing wipes specifically made for this purpose, as alcohol wipes and standard antibacterial wipes may remove protective coating from the phone.

An Unexpected Allergic Reaction

Many people experience allergic reactions to different metals or materials, like nickel, cobalt, chromium, and silicone. If you’ve noticed a burning sensation or rash on your ear, cheek, or jawline, you could be allergic to the materials in your phone. Experts call this emerging condition “mobile phone dermatitis.”

The most common allergen found in phones is nickel; ten to 20% of Americans have a nickel allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And one study found 90% of flip phones contain nickel in their cases or buttons. The problem occurs less with smartphones, but leading smartphone manufacturers do report traces of nickel have been found in their products. Even if there’s not a lot of nickel in a phone, and even if you’re not severely allergic, your chance of a reaction increases the longer you have the phone to your face.

If you’re trying to figure out where the rash along your jawline came from, see your dermatologist—you may have an allergy to the materials in your phone. Keep in mind different phone cases may also contain these materials. On the other hand, purchasing a phone case free of allergens can cover up the problematic areas of the phone and allow you to use it without a reaction.

Burns and Discoloration

Phones are already known for burning up your time, money, and energy. But when your phone has been directly in the sun, on the charger for a while, or just used for too long, its surface can get very hot. When your phone emits heat next to your skin for a long period of time, it can interfere with the production of melanin, resulting in dark spots or splotchy skin.

Avoid discoloration by talking on speakerphone or a headset during long calls. You can treat dark, blotchy spots by applying correcting serums recommended by your dermatologist.

Was this helpful?
(89)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Sep 11

  1. Poulsen AH, Friis S, Johansen C, et al. Mobile Phone Use and the Risk of Skin Cancer: A Nationwide Cohort Study in Denmark. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2013. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/06/20/aje.kws426.full

  2. Can Cell Phones Harm Our Health? Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund. http://www.stopcancerfund.org/p-brain-cancer/can-cell-phones-harm-our-health-2/

  3. Beckstrom AC, Cleman PE, Cassis-Ghavami FL, et al. Surveillance study of bacterial contamination of the parent’s cell phone in the NICU and the effectiveness of an anti-microbial gel in reducing transmission to the hands. Journal of Perinatology. 2013;33:960-963. http://www.nature.com/jp/journal/v33/n12/full/jp2013108a.html

  4. Wohrl S, Jandl T, Stingl G, et al. Mobile telephone as new source for nickel dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis. 2007;56:113. https://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a962147c-22c5-47d1-9196-d62f5db175e8%40sessionmgr120&vid=5&hid=102

  5. Richardson C, Hamann C, Hamann D, et al. Mobile Phone Dermatitis in Children and Adults: A Review of the Literature. Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology. 2014;27(2):60-69. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4062107/

  6. Jensen P, Johansen UB, Johansen J, et al. Nickel may be released from iPhone® 5. Contact Dermatitis. 2013;68(4):255-256. https://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a962147c-22c5-47d1-9196-d62f5db175e8%40sessionmgr120&vid=11&hid=102

  7. Bhoonderowa A, Gookool S, Biranjia-Hurdoyal SD. The Important of Mobile Phones in the Possible Transmission of Bacterial Infections in the Community. Journal of Community Health. 2014;39:965-967.

  8. Arora U, Devi P, Chadha A, et al. Cellphones a Modern Stayhouse For Bacterial Pathogens. JK Science. 2009;11(3):127-129. http://www.jkscience.org/archive/vol113/6-Original%20Article%20-%20cell%20phones.pdf

  9. Skin color – patchy. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003224.htm

  10. Contamination of mobile phones and hands revealed for Global Handwashing Day. London School of Hygiene

  11. Saving face: Dermatologists helping patients identify source of facial allergic contact dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/saving-face-dermatologists-helping-patients-identify-source-of-facial-allergic-contact-dermatitis

  12. Hansraj, KK. Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head. Surgical Technology International. 2014;25:277-279.

  13. ToxFAQs for Nickel. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=244&tid=44





















































Explore Skin, Hair and Nails
Recommended Reading
Next Up
  • Learn more about treatment for boils on and under the skin, including possible causes and complications of a boils skin infection.
  • Get important facts about boils, including options for boil treatment and the differences between boils, pimples and cysts.
  • Many people experience hair loss, but it doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying life. These tips can help you cope and may work to restore your hair’s natural beauty.
  • Learn more about how your hair changes as you get older so you can understand what's going on during each stage.
  • Explore the reason why women tend to lose hair after giving birth, and learn how to cope with the result. Spoiler: it’s temporary.
  • Did you know 90% of women experience skin changes during pregnancy? These changes can be caused by the significant shifts in hormones, metabolism, and immune response brought on by pregnancy.
  • You may be instinctively motivated to protect your newborn baby’s precious skin for a very good reason: newborn skin tends to be very sensitive. Watch out for certain signs that your baby’s skin is irritated so you can take steps to mitigate the problem.
  • Newborn babies tend to have sensitive skin. Learn how to care for your baby’s sensitive skin and minimize potential irritations.
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos