What All That Time on Your Phone Does to Your Skin — and Your Psyche

Molly Shea
·Beauty and Health Editor

I was sitting in a car a few weeks ago, snaking through New York City, squinting at a screen in front of me to read more about an eye product from StriVectin. The eye concentrate, the description said, would help fight the wrinkles that come from screen fatigue, caused by squinting as you stare at your phone or computer — or, in my case, a TV mounted to the back of a car seat.

I’d always been vaguely aware that all that screen time might be wreaking havoc on my looks, but this was the first time I’d seen the beauty repercussions from staring at my phone laid out so clearly. It was a little terrifying. Especially once I began to tally all the other technology factors at play for me: There were the bumps that popped up on my cheek if I held my phone to my ear, plus the bulging jaw muscles that popped up if I spent too long stressing over news on Twitter. And as I ran my fingers along the sides of my eyes (another no-no, I later learned — too much tugging on fragile skin), I could feel my eyes straining to look at the bright pink text.

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“You always hear, ‘don’t furrow your brows,’ because you’ll get wrinkles,” Emily Stoler, executive director of global marketing at StriVectin, told me after the ride. “But there are so many other repetitive movements that do lead to wrinkles. With our phones and tablets, as we get more tired our eyes lose focus, and we start squinting. And it’s definitely leading to increased wrinkles around the eye,” Stoler explains. “Because with any repetitive motion, you’re going to increase the chances of getting wrinkles.”

The same goes for rubbing your eyes when they’re tired. “When your eyes are dried out or irritated from looking at devices, you tend to rub them more, which pulls at the skin and makes them more susceptible to signs of aging,” Stoler warns. “The strain of squinting and rubbing — it all gives way to premature eyes and wrinkles around the eyes.” Beyond sitting on your hands or finding the perfect pair of glasses, you can help yourself by picking up an eye cream that smooths out existing lines, while strengthening the skin around your eyes to protect against future wrinkles. StriVectin’s eye concentrate “targets both lines and wrinkles, dark circles, and puffiness,” Stoler says. “It works to strengthen the skin barrier around the eye area. You’re smoothing the lines from the damage that’s already done, and then you’re strengthening the eye area to prevent future damage.”

If you’re craning your neck down at your phone while you squint, that’s doubly dangerous. “Tech neck is definitely a real, real thing,” Stoler tells me. “When you’re looking down at your phone, again, it’s the action of repetitive movements and the wearing of the skin in that area. Any time you look down at your phone and your skin’s folding in on itself, it’s chipping away at the structure and weakening the architecture in your skin, so that you are more susceptible to what we call the tree rings around your neck. We did some informal research, and we really are seeing it at a younger age and there’s just more overall awareness.”

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There’s a product for that, as well. StriVectin’s TL Advanced Tightening Neck Cream is formulated with a gravity-lifting complex that both “rebuilds the architecture that’s getting weakened by looking down again and again” and strengthens skin against further breakdown, Stoler says. But the important factor here is making sure that your neck is moisturized: “The area is completely neglected, so strengthening will helps, but just keeping that area moisturized, that is going to go such a long way in preventing against future lines and wrinkles,” Stoler advises. I made a mental note to add neck cream to my nightly routine and ramp up the eye cream use, but it was starting to feel like a very uphill battle.

By the time I spoke with dermatologist Will Kirby, D.O., FAOCD, medical director at LaserAway, I had worked myself into something of a technology-induced panic. In some ways, he told me, I was right to worry about what electronics were doing to my skin. “The whole reason technology exists is to make our lives better, but sometimes it can make it worse,” Kirby cautions.

Those bumps that pop up from keeping my phone pressed to my face? They have a name. “One of the things you see very commonly is that patients will develop an asymmetrical contact dermatitis that presents as something called acne mechanica,” Kirby says. It’s caused by something rubbing against your face — in many cases, your phone. “Men don’t get it so much, because they have thicker beards, but women do because they have finer hairs on their face, and their face has makeup, and then they rub it around on their face for a few hours every day. And then they come in and they have this unilateral, sometimes angular-appearing acne breakout,” he says. To avoid them in the future, he says, wipe your phone down regularly and reach for headphones when you have to make a call.

But other phone concerns were abated — I’d heard, for example, that the light that comes from my phone could be dulling my skin. Not so, Kirby told me. “It’s common knowledge that UV radiation is extremely detrimental to skin health,” Kirby says. Fortunately, the type of light that comes from your phone doesn’t destroy collagen in the skin or lead to any sort of discoloration or degradation. The same goes for a LuMee, or any sort of portable selfie light. “An addiction to social media can be detrimental to your social relationships, but at the end of the day it probably does not affect your skin very much,” he tells me. Phew!

There is some cause for beauty concern when it comes to the light on phones, though. “Your skin, like every other organ, needs time to heal,” he cautions. “If you’re losing sleep because you’re on your electronics every night, that could be bad for your skin.” Yes, those minutes spent on your phone mean fewer minutes of shut-eye. But the type of light that comes from your phone can prevent your body from producing melatonin, which regulates your circadian rhythm. That means that you may not get tired when you should, and when you do fall asleep, it may not be as restorative as it would be had you not been on your phone before bed. Kirby suggests using the Night Shift function on your iPhone to filter out the bluer wavelengths that keep you up at night and putting down the phone whenever possible.

But while avoiding technology where I can and applying creams when I can’t may leave my skin in better shape than it is right now, I’ll probably still be disappointed. Not because of what electronics have done to my face, but because of what they’ve done to my perception of what’s beautiful. “Not that society wasn’t already obsessed with the way we look, but selfies and FaceTime and Skype require that you look at yourself all the time,” Kirby says. “If you think about it, mirrors have only been around for a couple of hundred years. Now, every single day, all day, you can look at yourself. And that does change the psyche of the human mind — you become your own worst critic.”

It’s not exactly shocking that staring at ourselves — or at edited pictures of other people — on our phones all day can be damaging to self-esteem. But Kirby says he has seen an uptick in clients who feel worse about their own looks thanks to social media and feel like they need to fix newfound imperfections. “We have some of the most beautiful people in the world, and sometimes they come in and they’re so self-critical,” he says about his clients. “Electronics are sort of changing how the mind views other humans, and it’s making us less self-assured and less comfortable with the way we look.” He has seen it in his own work with aesthetics and lasers, he tells me, such as in the case of body hair that wouldn’t have mattered if high-definition photos weren’t so prevalent. “We do a ton of laser hair removal, and it’s a service that has existed only in the past 15 years. And electronics play a critical role in that. If you’re watching people on your phone, it changes your perception of what’s beautiful.”

Suddenly, I was less worried about losing collagen on my neck and gaining fine lines around my eyes, and more concerned by my concern with it all. I have a strong anti-editing policy when it comes to posting selfies, but even so much as choosing a picture to Instagram makes me hyperaware of every flaw, ever. And after I started to think about all the ways my phone was hurting my skin, my fine lines and tired skin were all I could see when I looked in the mirror — which left me wondering why I couldn’t look as fresh-faced as everyone else I saw online.

So what’s a girl to do, then? Do I tackle the problems — slathering on creams and ditching my phone at night — or do I try to adopt a less comparative view of it all? I’m going with both. I’ve cranked up Night Shift on my phone, and I’m heavier-handed with the eye cream than I was before. But I’m also making a conscious effort not to spend so much time looking at myself — or others — on my phone. I’ve cut down the list of people I follow on Snapchat. And I’ve given myself a two-minute time limit to post a selfie after deciding on a picture — the longer I stare at it and consider filters, I’ve found, the worse I feel.

How do you deal with screen-induced beauty issues? Tweet us your struggles — and solutions — at @YahooBeauty.

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