Your cellphone could be making you look old by damaging your skin

Could that smartphone, that tablet, that laptop be damaging your skin? That was a question dermatologists began talking about in Europe in 2016 at the Facial Aesthetics Conference and Exhibition.

A study looked at what high energy visible light (HEV light) was doing to skin and found that it was similar to ultraviolet A rays in that it damages the skin, causing premature aging, wrinkles and fine lines. It doesn’t cause the skin cancer and sunburn associated with UVB rays, but there is some evidence that HEV could damage our skin’s DNA as well.

The light from your phone screen could be damaging your skin. Bryan Thomas/The New York Times 2015

What does all this mean to us?

“It means that you have to protect yourself every day,” says Dr. Ted Lain, an Austin dermatologist with Sanova Dermatology.

That means wearing sunscreen, whether you’re going outside or staying inside.

In this case, the SPF number isn’t what you’re going to look for in a sunscreen, Lain says. Instead, you’re looking for a tinted sunscreen with strong antioxidants like iron oxide. “It’s like an internal sunscreen for the cells,” he says. “It protects our cells at the DNA level.”

Dr. Ted Lain of Sanova Dermatology RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

You can find these sunscreens both at your grocery store or your dermatologist’s office. You should apply it daily, once a day if you’re inside and not sweating it off.

You still need a sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) for the sun’s UVB rays that causes sunburn and skin cancer. In fact, Lain says, new research reversed an old theory about how high an SPF you need. The FDA used to say that the difference between SPF 50 and SPF 100 was not noticeable. Now, researchers found it does actually make a difference whether you have SPF 50 or SPF 100. You see, in a lab, the difference wasn’t noticeable, but in real-life application of sunscreen it did matter because we never put a thick enough layer on ourselves.

You should use about an ounce (think shot glass full) of sunscreen in a thick layer that you rub in. Don’t forget areas like the ears, neck and cheeks. If you’re outside and sweating, reapply it every 80 minutes, Lain says.

Especially in Austin, where we are exposed to the sun so often, making sure we have a high enough SPF in our sunscreen is important. “Anything below SPF 30 is a waste of time,” Lain says.

If you thought you were getting enough protection in your makeup with SPF 15, you need to add in a sunscreen on top of that.

More technology is on the horizon in skin care, Lain says. Soon there will be mirrors and phone apps that will tell us how healthy our skin is and where we need more moisture or to pay attention to pore size.