Cell Phone Radiation Effects on the Human Body: Are They Safe?

March 16, 2020 • Shannon Flynn


It’s hard to imagine a world without cell phones. While in the grand scheme of things these little devices are relatively new, they’ve become an essential part of modern life. But just how safe are they? Most phone-related health discussions seem to center on the issue of cell phone radiation effects on the human body.

You’ve probably heard all sorts of things about how cell phones may or may not be harming you. You won’t have to browse long to find arguments for everything from phones causing joint damage to the classic “smartphones make people dumb” argument.

Cell phones use a lot of energy and give off a lot of radio waves. These factors, and the fact that you often use phones around your head, may raise some red flags about radiation. Yes, cell phones do emit radiation, but whether this radiation is damaging or not is less certain.

What Kind of Radiation Do Cell Phones Emit?

When you think of the word “radiation,” you may think of x-ray machines or nuclear power plants. With those images in mind, hearing that cell phones emit radiation might be alarming. But the type of radiation phones give off isn’t the same as these other sources.

Cell phones use radiofrequency waves (RF waves) to send and receive signals from cell towers. These RF waves are a type of non-ionizing radiation, a spectrum that includes Wi-Fi signals and visible light. Non-ionizing radiation is weaker and less dangerous than ionizing radiation, which includes gamma rays and UV light.

Ionizing radiation is potentially dangerous because it can break apart chemical bonds in DNA. The effects of these waves can be as small as getting a sunburn or as severe as developing cancer. Non-ionizing radiation, on the other hand, doesn’t affect your DNA’s chemical makeup, although it can heat tissue.

Is Radiofrequency Radiation Harmful?

Now you know that your phone’s RF waves aren’t the same as X-rays. But you’re around your phone a lot more than you’re around sources of ionizing radiation. Does this prolonged exposure have any adverse side effects?

Two 2018 studies found a connection between RF radiation and cancer in rats. Both studies showed that rats were more likely to develop rare tumors called schwannomas after extended exposure to low levels of RF waves. But before you throw your cell phone in the trash, you should consider a few other points.

Just because RF waves can lead to cancer in rats doesn’t mean it does the same to people. There are only a few recorded cases of schwannomas in humans throughout medical history. There have also been plenty of studies covering RF radiation in humans, none of which presented substantial evidence for phones causing cancer.

The FDA states that there is no absolute proof that cell phone radiation has any adverse health effects. The data from 30 years’ worth of studies show no connection between RF waves and health problems, and public health data doesn’t suggest a link either. In fact, nervous system cancers in the U.S. have decreased over the last 15 years.

Is Prolonged Cell Phone Use Safe?

You can keep using your phone like you always do without worrying about radiation. The only scientifically proven effect of cell phone radiation on the human body is tissue heating. Your hands or cheek might get a little warm, but apart from that, your phone’s RF waves won’t do anything to you.If you’re still worried about cell phone radiation effects on the human body, there are steps you can take and products you can purchase to reduce your exposure to RF radiation. Your phone could emit more RF waves if you’re in an enclosed metal space, so avoid using it in those areas. You could also prefer texting over talking on the phone to keep the radiation source away from your head. To be extra safe, the FCC limits the amount of radiation a phone can emit. While no study is perfect, all of the data points towards cell phone radiation being harmless.