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Acne Causes: Is Your Phone Causing Breakouts?

June 22, 2021

Did you know that your cell phone can be a factor among the many acne causes? The first thing that many of us do when we wake up in the morning, is to reach over for our phones. A new term “Nomophobia” was recently coined from “No Mobile Phone Phobia”, describing a psychological condition where people have a fear of being detached from their phones. This includes losing, forgetting, breaking their phones or being without mobile phone contact. 

It is a growing concern in a world, where always being connected seems more important than ever before. Phones have become a ubiquitous part of life. It’s the one thing you bring with you anywhere, everywhere. With COVID-19 bringing about the longest and most widespread lockdown, many turn towards an increased use of phones as the most convenient way to stay connected. The modern smartphone has many benefits to offer. It ensures instant connectivity as well as help increase workplace productivity. It’s no wonder that there are now more than 3 billion smartphone users worldwide.

Can phones affect your skin?

With constant contact with our phones, it’s vital to be aware of the negative effects they have on overall skin health, especially in those with acne. In a study conducted, all patients reported increased cell phone use and cell phone–skin contact time during the lockdown period, as well as observed acne in these patients. There were also higher numbers of acne lesions and more severe acne lesions on the side of the face that came in most frequent contact with a cell phone while talking.

How do our phones cause acne?

Microbiologists often refer to phones as petri dishes of bacteria as they provide the optimal environment for bacteria growth by generating heat and being kept in dark warm places such as our pockets. In a 2015 study, researchers identified methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and a host of other bacteria from the phones of study participants, which included hospital staff.

Every square inch of your cell phone has an estimated 25,000 germs, making it one of the most unhygienic things you have contact with on a daily basis. Each time you hold your phone up to your face or touch your phone and then your face, dirt, oil and microorganisms  from your phone can transfer onto your face and lead to an outbreak of acne.

The constant pressure, friction and heat dissipated from the phone along with the bacteria found on its surface can also lead to perspiration, irritation, inflammation, clogging of your pore and hence, resulting in another one of the many acne causes. Phone acne generally occur on the cheek, in the area where the phone is held up to the skin. 

Blue light from phones 

Blue light is able to penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB and UVA light, accessing the dermis where elastin and collagen are present. That could be the reason why phones cause acne more than other electronics. Currently,  there is still ongoing research on the influence of blue light on skin. Taheri et al. posits that short-wavelength visible light emitted from phones may increase the proliferation of Staphylococcus aureus and thus may induce acne.

Furthermore, blue light causes sleep problems and sleep deprivation is one of the main acne triggers. Exposure to blue light can interfere with your natural circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). The light hinders the body’s ability to fall asleep at night by inhibiting the melatonin hormone which makes one sleepy. Overall, it causes you to be less sleepy and hence, you eventually take a longer time to fall asleep. 

“To give it more context, I would also like to highlight what blue light actually does to your skin. In studies, blue light at intensities present in sunlight, which is much more intense than what is coming out of your phone, can lead to free radical generation. This cause superficial skin aging and leads to formation of dark spots, discolouration and wrinkles. Antioxidants, which counters free-radical damage when applied everyday on the skin throughout the day and especially before one sleeps at night, helps skin to repair the daily damage,” accredited dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin.

Preventing and managing phone acne

Here are some tips on how you can prevent breakouts. “I would summarise it based on the current status of medical knowledge. First of all, do not use any home-use blue light devices. This is because it can harm your eyes, whilst having little to no benefit to your acne with low doses. If you have pigmentation issues, you should seek treatment, as our daily environmental exposures cannot be avoided. These include sunlight exposure during commutes, looking at computer screens for long hours on the job and often, simply having ambient LED lighting all around us. Last but not least, the use of a well-formulated antioxidant skincare is important too,” Dr. Teo.

The SunProtector is formulated with physical blockers like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that effectively blocks blue light emitted by indoor devices. Portulaca Oleracea (Purslane) and Oligopeptides in our SunProtector are potent antioxidants which actively fight free radicals generated by blue light as well as airborne pollutants – for comprehensive protection.

Lifestyle changes

“On a lifestyle level, if one keeps to a normal sleep-wake cycle, that is helpful to mitigate the most damaging impact of blue light. The highest risk in exposure to ambient LED lights would be with the use of blue light devices. This is because a lot of these light devices, such as one by Neutrogena, were recalled due to the risk of retinal damage. In fact, other light spectrums, when performed directly over the eye, can also cause retinal damage. Blue light itself in most ambient circumstances is of intensities too low to be of any significant impact,” Dr. Teo.

Regularly clean phones 

It is recommended to use an alcohol swab or antibacterial wipe to disinfect your phone. While cleaning your phone, care should be taken that the cell phone remains unplugged and switched off and any cleaning done should avoid all openings.

Use earphones

If possible, use an earphone, speakerphone or text, this helps to keep the phone’s surface away from your skin, hence existing bacteria on your phone’s screen would not come into contact with or sit against your face. It is recommended to reduce call time so as to prevent phones from heating up and to avoid using phones while charging.

Avoid pressure

It is best to loosely hold your phone against your skin to avoid putting unnecessary pressure. Pressure, friction or the rubbing of the skin with the phone’s surface may stimulate the skin’s oil glands and result in an increase in acne flare-ups.

A dermatologist-formulated product for acne-prone skin

honey cleanser for acne causes

The Miel Honey™ Cleanser is  made of a blend of nature-derived emulsifiers. It thoroughly cleanses the skin with botanical emulsifiers leaving a clean yet moisturised feel. It contains Arnica Montana Extract which stabilizes skin and reduces flaking. It is also a natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal active ingredient.

Find out how to treat your acne naturally on our podcast, Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty Ep 31.

References:

Singh M, Pawar M, Maheswari A, Bothra A, Khunger N. ‘Cell-phone acne’ epidemic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2020;45(7):903-905. doi:10.1111/ced.14360

Bhattacharya S, Bashar MA, Srivastava A, Singh A. NOMOPHOBIA: NO MObile PHone PhoBIA. J Family Med Prim Care. 2019;8(4):1297-1300. doi:10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_71_19

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