Answer: There's a good chance of it, if your phone is in direct contact with your body much of the time. The smell could be mild... or very strong. And, because a change in your smell can mean a change in your health, it may be helpful for early detection.
Reasons: (short answer here. Longer answer below, and references at the bottom, for those who are interested. If you read nothing else, please read #4 here + the "Key takeaway" + "But don't panic" sections right after this)
1. cell phones emit microwave radiation. This has the potential to cause harm, through heat and other effects.
2. one of those effects is: our sweat ducts act as antennas and can absorb the frequencies from cell phones into our skin.
3. my theory is: absorbing those frequencies into our skin can cause a very strange smell. And a shower won’t get rid of the smell, at least not for long, because it’s coming from inside your cells.
4. a change in body odor can indicate that abnormal changes are happening inside the body. Maybe you've heard of the woman who noticed a change in her husband’s smell, six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. And most people have probably heard of dogs being able to detect various types of cancer early by sniffing people's skin, breath, or bodily fluids. Electronic "noses" are now being successfully used to detect a variety of diseases, often with greater accuracy and sensitivity than the traditionally used diagnostic methods
Key takeaway: There are very understandable reasons why we tend to ignore the things we hear about cell phone use (e.g. its links with cancer). And we may ignore hearing that the combination of all the smart devices everywhere + millions of cell towers + tens of thousands of satellites = exposure to EMF levels that are 7.2 million times higher than what has been determined to be safe, and that this is destroying all sorts of life forms. So, what are those understandable reasons that we don’t change what we’re doing?? 1) the information feels too scary and overwhelming to think about… so we just don’t. We tend to think that the life forms being affected couldn’t possibly be us… or our kids… or our pets… or our best friend. We want to believe that the effects are all happening “out there somewhere”. 2) at this point, phones are almost everywhere and used for everything, so for most people, just trying to imagine anything different feels impossible… so we don’t. 3) many millions of people are, quite literally, addicted to their phones, and addiction can change how you justify things. 4) the telecommunications industry has unfathomable amounts of power and money, and it’s in their best interest to have people believe that their products are harmless. But a strange new smell coming out of the bodies of so many people using smartphones suggests that these products may not be so harmless. Maybe our own bodies are giving us evidence every day that something unnatural really is happening.
But don’t panic. There's good news with the bad/unexpected news. You do have options, and you're not alone. Right now, maybe you're feeling worried about your health and about the social consequences of possibly smelling bad. Right now, maybe you can’t even imagine using your phone less, because you’ve become so dependent on it. That’s because phones and everything on them are designed to keep you interacting with them as much as possible. But you can reverse that, with a little time, baby steps, and the support of others.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have ideas and questions. My hope is that this will start a conversation and encourage people to be curious about what’s in their best interest, and maybe some will even want to do their own experiments. Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom of the page and to share this with others.
What kind of smell am I talking about? It's hard to describe, but it's likely that you’ve noticed it somewhere, on someone, at some time but didn't quite know what it was. I think the smell is caused by having direct contact with a smartphone over a period of time, so I call it the Cell Smell. (For this blog post, since smartphones seem to be the most commonly used handheld device, I’ll just refer to them, but everything I say can be applied to tablets, as well. Also, I'm using the terms "smartphone", "cell phone" and "phone" interchangeably.) The Cell Smell is unpleasant, but it’s different from the odor of sweat (“B.O.”), unwashed clothes, or the effects of diet (e.g. eating lots of garlic or curry).
The microwave radiation from your phone penetrates the tissues of your body. The FCC says that the radiation from phones is usually safe... but the FCC’s safety guidelines are more than 26 years old, and phones were not tested in direct contact with the body. As just one example of something you might want to know: female breast tissue is highly absorbent tissue, so keeping your phone in your bra will result in higher levels of radiation being absorbed.
But what about all of those studies that say cell phones are safe? It takes money to do research, and most of those studies are paid for by the telecommunications industry. Dr. Devra Davis notes, "The few independent studies that are out there indicate that there's a problem." Apple and Samsung have been sued for intentionally misrepresenting the safety of their devices.
Because our sweat ducts can absorb the frequencies from a phone into our skin, my theory is: 1) this can cause changes in your cells over time that will produce the Cell Smell. 2) the Cell Smell may be a type of barometer, potentially indicating very unhealthy changes that are happening in the body --- changes that may not be able to be detected yet by currently available tests. "Human odor...reflects the physiological status of an individual. Recently, the components of exhaled breath, skin emissions and urine odor have attracted attention as diagnostic biomarkers of diseases and disorders, such as diabetes, liver disease, asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis." (see reference and link below, in "If you want further reading".)
As I mentioned above, this is not an ordinary odor. A shower won’t get rid of the Cell Smell for long --- and maybe not at all --- because the smell is being continuously generated from inside your body, rather than being like bacteria that sits on the surface of your skin and can be rinsed off. To quote a line from bad horror movies, "The call is coming from inside the house."
The Cell Smell can hang around in the air, too. Recently, I went to get my vehicle emissions test done. When I entered the enclosed waiting room where you can watch them test your car, the strength of the Cell Smell in there was overwhelming, even though there was no one in the room. The Cell Smell can be almost anywhere there are people, and it can linger long after they leave.
On your own skin, can you detect the Cell Smell? How about on your clothes or in the air? Depending on how sharp your sense of smell is and whether you tend to be in places where the Cell Smell is all around, you may or may not be able to smell it on your skin or in the air. But try smelling your clothes and your accessories (purse, wallet, hat, etc.). Smell any cash you have. Smell your car seat and your furniture. You may be able to smell it on some of your friends and family.
I’ve noticed the Cell Smell on apparently healthy 5-year-olds who were swimming in a heavily chlorinated pool (and who kept stopping to check their phones). I’ve smelled it on people in their 70s. I’ve smelled it on sick people and seemingly healthy people, rich people and poor people, hygiene nuts and the not-so-clean. It doesn’t discriminate. You can be young, very hygienic, very athletic, and have a very clean diet (no sugar, no processed foods, no alcohol) ---- and yet, your body can still be creating the Cell Smell.
I've known people who went from having both a cell phone and a landline to having only a cell phone, and the Cell Smell on them changed from moderate to very strong. This would seem to suggest that some sort of unhealthy changes were occurring in their bodies, after they started having more contact with a cell phone.
If you don’t own a smartphone, does that mean you won't have the Cell Smell? Not necessarily. While the smell wouldn't be coming out of your skin, your clothes may be picking it up. You probably occasionally go to a restaurant, bar, library, or doctor’s office. The next time you're getting ready to go to one of those places, pick out a clean pair of pants, shorts, or a skirt to wear, and smell the back of them before getting dressed. When you get back, smell that same area again. Chances are high that they will have picked up the Cell Smell, because that’s the part of your clothing that was the most in contact with surfaces that other people sat on --- many of whom do use phones frequently.
I don't notice the Cell Smell on every person who has a smartphone. While that may have something to do with individual variations in people's bodies, I suspect that it has more to do with how much time they spend in direct contact with a phone.
To summarize and suggest a future direction: the presence of the Cell Smell may be an indicator of pathological (unhealthy) changes occurring in the body --- changes that can’t yet be detected with available tests. Although the smell may not tell us which particular body parts are being affected, there may be a parallel between the strength of the Cell Smell and the extent of the changes that are occurring, i.e. stronger smell = more changes happening (somewhere in the body). While it's not a perfect measurement system, it may be the best currently available method of detecting early changes, and it is available at no cost.
I know that all of this may be very unsettling to think about. And, for many people, the idea of not being in constant contact with their phone may be the most upsetting part. Yes, smartphones are very convenient, but they are also designed to be highly addictive, and that's much of what makes it so hard to even imagine using them less. But the good news is that you can eventually make changes that might seem impossible right now. Baby steps + time + support usually work the best.
If you are one of those people who wants to find out for yourself whether the amount of direct contact with your phone makes a difference in your smell, I would love to know the outcome of any experiments you do.
If you want further reading
"As stated by the FCC, there are no federally developed safety standards. Instead of proper safety limits, the US government adopted “guidelines” developed by industry based on decades old research. Guidelines have a much lower certainty than a “standard” as proper long term safety testing was not done to ensure the public was protected from all possible harm."
"FCC exposure limits are based on the assumption that wireless signals at a human body from a distance are from only one transmitter antenna. In the 21st century, we are not exposed to just one Wi-Fi transmitter antenna. One typical school classroom might have dozens of radiation streams from dozens of transmitting antennas: 30 laptops, 30 cell phones, a wireless printer, a wireless security system, an overhead internet access point and a cell tower located in line of sight outside the window.” https://ehtrust.org/policy/fcc-safety-standards/
"The standards only consider the immediate, acute effects of cell phone radiation exposure. However, chronic effects due to long-term exposure are ignored.” Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director, Center for Family and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley https://www.saferemr.com/2017/09/whats-wrong-with-cell-phone- radiation.html
I'm Dr. Greta Hunter, a clinical psychologist, trying to make the world a little better in whatever ways I can.