News Column

Is your phone ruining your skin?

July 6, 2014

Antao, Lisa

Your mobile phone is something that you just can't do without. Working, social networking, banking, shopping, personal communication, entertainment, etc. all of this happens on this hand-held device. You spend so much time on your phone, eyes glued to the screen, fingers furiously typing away and the device pressed against your ears while talking. While harmful effects like radiation and eye strain have and are still being discussed, one lesser known con is the possibility of one getting skin problems like mobile or cell phone dermatitis. Experts give us their take on it.


Thirty-year-old Nisha Aggarwal (name changed) had developed a rash predominantly on her right hand and right ear. She sought professional help. On inspection, it looked like contact allergic dermatitis. Later, when enquiring about her work at home and office, the cause of her skin condition was zeroed down to her mobile phone which had a protective cover. She was asked to refrain from using that cover. After treating her with creams and oral antihistamines, her skin improved, recounts dermatologist Dr SG Parasramani, Lilavati Hospital, who says that this incidence is on the rise.

What is mobile dermatitis?

Dermatitis in simple words is an inflammation of the "derm" (skin)' due to an external agent to which the skin has developed allergy to. "With mobile phones becoming an indispensable and inseparable part of our lives, it is definitely possible to get an allergic reaction to the metal used to fabricate the stylish handset you display. Due to the competitive rates offered by the rival telecom companies, people spend long hours talking on the phone, which increase the contact period with the metal used to manufacture the handset. It is quite likely that the person may already have or may develop an allergic dermatitis to the metal," informs aesthetic physician and anti-ageing expert Dr Jamuna Pai.

Metal, plastic and talking for long hours responsible

Dermatologist and aesthetic physician Dr Anuya Manerkar has also seen such cases. "I have encountered patients of all age groups around the world. The use of mobiles has become extremely affordable and consumers have more than one cell phone and wireless provider to choose from. Also, a common factor in all phones is metal. The combination of these reasons leads to prolonged usage and thereby, prolonged contact with user's ear and face. Hence, recent reports of facial allergic contact dermatitis to cell phone metals have begun to emerge. Typical presentations include dry isolated itchy patch on the cheek, jawline or ears or fingers coinciding with areas of contact with metallic parts of phone. Dr Parasramani says that while some may be allergic to the mobile phone's metal casing, some to the buttons and some to the plastic covers.

Women more prone to it

Here's some bad news for the fairer sex - women are more prone to developing similar complaints due to nickel sulfate and hexavalent chromium. Agrees Dr Manerkar saying that nickel is found in many objects of daily basis like keys, coins and paperclips. However, since contact is brief, nickel allergy does not develop. The risk of allergy is increased by frequent, prolonged exposure to nickel containing objects like necklaces, watches and earrings. The most common phone areas containing free nickel include the decorative logos on headsets, menu buttons and metal frames around the LCD display. Thus, patches of dermatitis involving areas of unilateral ear and /or face corresponding to parts of phone that touch the face.


Mobile phone dermatitis like any other allergic reaction can manifest in the form of rash in the areas of contact such as the ear, earlobe, fingers, palms, etc. The rash may be associated with itching and dry patches. It is best to allow your dermatologist to treat such a condition as besides the anti-allergic tablets, one may require the help of mild steroid applications to bring the condition under control. Before you visit the doctor, you can start using a soothing agent like Calamine along with sunscreen during the day to calm down the skin, advises Dr Pai.

Dos and don'ts

Dr Manerkar lists the following guidelines:

Switching to a wireless ear piece is also another option

Covering metal parts of the phone with plastic film as an alternate treatment option

Individuals with established diagnosis can check objects by patch test reaction to nickel sulfate

Credit:Lisa Antao

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Source: DNA : Sunday

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