California Issues Warning About Cell Phone Radiation. Should We Freak Out?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Cell phones are so commonplace these days, we rarely stop to consider whether they’re healthy or not. But a new set of guidelines from the California Department of Public Health reminded us that our phones are emitting electromagnetic radiation whenever they’re in use. So should we freak out?

In a word, no. The CDPH explained that radio frequency energy—the kind of radiation your phone emits—probably isn’t great for you, but it also won’t kill you. Most likely. We don’t really know the long-term effects of frequent cell phone use, but some studies say it could be linked to certain health problems, including brain cancer and tumors, a lower sperm count, headaches, and decreased mental function.

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But please: Don’t freak out. Or throw your phone out the window. We said could be linked not is linked. But if you want to dial back your screen time just in case, the CDPH suggested a few (super-doable) ways to reduce exposure to RF energy:

1. Use speakerphone, headphones, or a headset.

If you can avoid holding your phone directly up to your ear, do it. Using the built-in microphone in standard headphones is a great option, but a headset or speakerphone also works.

2. Text more.

Sorry, Mom, but anything that keeps your phone an arm’s length away from your face is a plus.

3. Don’t store your phone in your pocket.

When possible, carry your phone in a bag or backpack rather than your pocket. It still emits RF energy when you’re not using it, so keep it off your body if you can help it.

4. Don’t use your phone in fast-moving vehicles.
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Definitely don’t use your phone if you’re driving. But even if you’re just a passenger, it’s best to put your phone away in cars, trains, and buses—cell phones put out more RF energy when they have to switch from cell tower to cell tower.

5. Use your phone only when you have good service.

We’re talking four or five bars minimum. According to the CDPH, cell phones emit way more RF energy when the signal is weak.

6. Don’t sleep with your phone by your pillow.

This is the one everyone talks about, and it’s true. If your phone is on and nearby while you’re sleeping, you’re unnecessarily exposing yourself to RF energy. You can survive without your phone by your side for a few hours per night, we promise.

Ultimately, it’s not practical to follow all these recommendations all the time. But if you can manage to do even a few of them every once in a while, you could be doing your future self a favor.

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