Can a cell phone cause acne?

Published: Feb. 19, 2013 at 10:50 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2013 at 2:55 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's the one accessory you never leave home without: your cell phone.  Sometimes it may seem like a cell phone is more like an extension of our hand, going everywhere and anywhere.

"I carry my cell phone around. It's in my purse; my children are playing with it. I bring it to the bathroom sometimes multi-tasking," said dermatologist Dr. Laci Theunissen.

That means some nasty little organisms may be hitch-hiking from one surface to the phone's surface, which is then applied directly to your face.

"A lot of people don't think about it," said Theunissen.

To find out just what is lurking on that surface, we took a few cell phones to the Our Lady of the Lake School of Clinical Laboratory Sciences.

There, a qualified student swabbed each phone, and transferred the swab to a small disk designed to let bacteria grow.  The swabs were then incubated for about three days at 35 degrees Celsius which is roughly equal to body temperature.

The results looked like some sort of nightmarish abstract painting.  Several different bacteria were identified, including streptococcus- a cousin of strep throat- and staphylococcus- a cousin of the dreaded staph infection.

However, there is good news.

"This is normal flora," explained lab student Joel Bracey. "This stuff is not harmful, so people don't need to be afraid of their cell phones just because I found staph on there."

Dermatologist Dr. Laci Theunissen wasn't surprised by the findings, but she admits that some flora they may not have shown up on the test could contribute to acne in some of her patients.

"One consideration when a patient comes for the treatment of acne, especially if it's along the jaw line, is to ask them, "What side do you talk on your cell phone? Do you talk on your cell phone often? Do you use a headset or do you use ear piece?'" said Theunissen.

Turns out, the constant pressure  and contact of the cell phone along with the bacteria found on the surface of phones can aggravate the skin, and add to acne breakouts. Dr. Theunissen says athletes who use chin straps often have the same problem.

"If you think about all the cell phone goes through in a day and then you keep it on your face talking on it, you can see how bacteria can be transferred," she said.

However, you don't have to live in fear of your cell phone.  Doctors recommend using an alcohol swab or antibacterial wipe to clean your phone.   You can also start using headphones to keep the phone's surface away from your skin, and of course, wash your hands frequently.   

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.