Our screens aren't friendly to our skin, emitting rays and doing other damage. Luckily, we found face-saving advice.

By By Courtney Rubin
Updated: April 01, 2019
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It's becoming increasingly clear that while we can't live without our phones (a University of Missouri study found we're nervous and less happy and even perform worse cognitively when we're separated from them), we can't exactly live with them either; they've been blamed for everything from sleeplessness to loneliness. Now there's a new scourge to add to the list. It turns out our devices pose numerous risks to our skin that no Snapchat filter can fix. Here's the news-and your new protection plan.

Your screen time is aging you.

The culprit is the blue light from your TV, computer, and smartphone, a.k.a. high-energy visible (HEV) light, and it's said to penetrate the skin more deeply than UV rays and damage collagen, hyaluronic acid, and elastin. There is some evidence that the light may also worsen pigmentation problems, such as melasma (brown splotches). Evidence tying it to skin cancers and deep wrinkles is scant, however, in part because the subject is too new for long-term study results. Unfortunately, even if you wear sunscreen daily, many formulas don't protect against HEV. The key ingredient required for that is a vegetable-derived form of melanin (the pigment that makes skin tan), which is showing up in new products specifically designed for tech rays, such as Dr. Sebagh's Supreme Day Cream ($220; net-a-porter.com) and ZO Skin Health's Ossential Daily Power Defense ($150; zoskinhealth.com).

It's smart to play it safe, dermatologists say, but there's no need to panic. "I don't think we've reached the point where HEV light is an emergency yet," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center. Derms also warn against transferring our protection diligence from sun to screens. "We know the effects of the sun are so much more damaging than anything else, so it's crucial not to forgo sunscreen in favor of an HEV guard," Dr. Tanzi says. (Read more about protecting your skin from HEV light.)

Tech neck is real.

Looking down at your smartphone daily can cause wrinkles-and not just the ones on your forehead that you get in disbelief over what you're reading on Twitter. We're talking permanent wrinkles around your chin and neck, plus sagging skin and drooping jowls. "Any repetitive movement over time can do this, particularly on the face and neck," Dr. Tanzi explains. She says she's beginning to see tech neck, plus wrinkles in the jowl area, in women in their 30s. Until recently it was most common in women over 50. No product can prevent this, and the problem is difficult to reverse once it happens, requiring aggressive treatments, like fillers and lasers.

Instead, focus on prevention: Hold up your phone instead of looking down. "Nobody does this, but they really should," Dr. Tanzi says. And avoid walking and texting. (Practicing these yoga poses can also help correct tech neck.) Need more incentive? Constantly looking down while in motion may be hurting our necks, causing excessive wear and tear that could require surgery, according to a 2014 study published in Surgical Technology International.

Blame those breakouts on your phone.

Cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats, according to Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a University of Arizona microbiologist. This makes them something of a technological petri dish for tens of thousands of germs, thanks to the heat that phones generate (microbes multiply in warm places) and the bacteria on our hands that transfer to our devices and then to our faces. But even the cleanest phone (here's how to clean yours) can bring on acne. "Anything that causes repeated friction if you're acne prone can produce blemishes," Dr. Tanzi says. "If you're sticking your phone up against your face all the time and pushing it into your cheek, it can irritate and clog pores." The pressure encourages oil glands to secrete more oil and also forces bacteria, dirt, and makeup into pores, where they get trapped. And you get pimples or even deep acne cysts, those large, painful bumps that can scar if you pick them. Solution: Use the speaker button or a hands-free microphone, or simply hold your phone away from your cheek.

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