Tech Neck: Are your high-tech habits causing wrinkles?

Published: Jul. 29, 2014 at 2:30 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Smart phones, tablets, laptops, they've all made communicating with others easier on the go. It takes mere seconds to send a text message or an email.

But lately global headlines have warned of possible unintended consequences of spending so much time utilizing mobile devices, namely, accelerated aging.

We delved into those claims in a special report: "Tech Neck."

Many people are not shy about owning up to the hours they spend texting.

"Pretty much all the time," Don Hembree said.

"Ah, how many hours, maybe five, but it's just like communicating with the kids, and friends," Mecca Hamilton said of the hours she devotes to typing on her phone's keyboard.

Texting is everywhere and research suggests people love to do it, especially using their phones. From basic cellular phones to the ones that have the added label of being called, "smart" phones make short communications possible in a hurry.

The Pew Research Internet Project found that as of January 2014, 90-percent of American adults had a cell phones, and 58 percent have smartphones. Thirty-two percent of American adults own an e-reader and 42 percent of adults own a tablet computer.

In 2013, Pew also found that 81 percent of cell phone users send or receive "text" messages.

It's not the technology that's spurring the headlines, but the possible consequences of staring down at electronic devices for too long. Some suggest that keeping the head bent will lead to premature neck wrinkles.

"I mean it makes sense, yes, I think, I mean if you stay in that position for a long time I'm sure it does," Lauren Schwartz said as she walked through the French Quarter.

Tyler Lloyd was asked how long he spends texting a day and whether he is concerned his habits could age him.

"Three to four hours a day…Yes, I guess. I never really thought about it," answered Tyler Lloyd.

"I don't like that. That doesn't sound great. That it can happen, yes, I think it would realistic for that to happen," Hamilton said.

But are the claims more hype than reality? Two medical professionals weighed in.

Dr. Erin Boh, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and Chair of Dermatology at Tulane's School of Medicine.

"I think that's a bit of a stretch," she said of the claims linking neck skin changes to mobile device habits.

At the LSU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Oren Tessler, M.D., specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

"Everyone whose face, or neck is aging thinks it's premature, it's never the right age for that to happen," Tessler said.

He said changes to the neck are inevitable whether one uses a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, or laptop.

"When you're younger your face starts off with what's called like an inverted egg, it's wider here, and it goes down…So you see here there's a nice angle to the neck, as you age that angle becomes more of a slope, you lose definition of the neck as all this descends." Tessler said. Tessler as he demonstrated how skin tightness changes with age.

"We have things that are called dynamic, or expression lines, those lines occur from use, overuse, you speak, you smile, you get expression lines," Boh said.

"Same thing when you frown, you get lines, vertical right here," Tessler continued.

Still, the skin is not oblivious to repeated movements.

"They're looking down in one position for a long period of time, and that repetitive motion can cause a kind of creasing, or a furrowing in those lines. It's not really damage to the skin, but it's just maybe getting lines that maybe you don't want and that will give you the appearance of looking older," Boh added.

She illustrated by folding a piece of paper in half.

"And you had it folded for a long, long time, and then you open it up and you flatten it down, it's perfectly flat, but your line is still there. And I think that's what's occurring, mainly in people who do texting, and do repetitive looking down," Boh said.

"The concept is that by moving the neck forward and back, and forward and back you're again causing those wrinkles by scrunching up the skin," Tessler said as he continued to demonstrate with the help of a mannequin medical students practice on.

Some who engaged in texting for long periods of time, say if wrinkles are consequence, then so be it.

"Oh, I already got wrinkles on my neck though man, not from that," Hembree stated.

Boh believes the worst offender in terms of maintaining youthful looking skin is the sun.

"What damages your skin are the sun and ultra the violet rays, or other chemical exposures, that causes true damage to your skin. This just gives you an impression, a furrowed line which won't go away easily and so it does make you look older, or it looks saggy and loose," she said while pressing the folder piece of paper on her desk.

Still she, nor Tessler, is sold on claims that texting or using other mobile devices definitely leads to so called "tech neck," or premature wrinkling of the skin.

"There is no study that shows that texting actually causes it, does it accentuate it? Perhaps," Tessler said. "Instead of staying in one position for long periods of time, move your neck, look up, look down, look to various positions, so that you're not in one position for long periods of time that would certainly help."

Boh said the fact that people are constantly taking pictures with their phones, including "selfies" is making them more self conscious because in years past photos were not taken as often.

"We will kind of tend to focus on the things that stand out to us," Boh said.

"There's a lot we do know and a lot of those are the simple tried and true and it doesn't sound as sexy as saying my cell phone caused it, but if we have good skin care, good nutrition, and avoid the sun, using sun block at all times and we don't smoke these things will help our skin quality and skin tone," Tessler said.

But even with the lack of scientific evidence to back up the claims of "tech neck," some people have committed to curtail their texting.

"Yes, I will. I need to stop texting as much as I do anyway, so yes," Hamilton said.

While others said no way, it's too convenient.

"No, heck no, no that's okay, there's plenty of other things to hurt your neck worse than texting to your friends," Hembree said.

"And the truth is texting is here and I don't think it's going to go anywhere, so we deal with the problems as we get them," Tessler said.

"People are not going to give up their devices, so you work with, understand what causes the problem, if it's a problem at all, and then do things that's going to help minimize the consequences of it," Boh said.

Both said if people are uncomfortable with the way their skins look there are numerous treatments available from lotions to smooth the skin to surgery.

"If you use lotions that may smooth the skin, and help improve the texture of the skin you can minimize that wrinkling, certainly you can do things to tighten the skin, but again you'd have to then change your behavior because if you keep doing that same repetitive motion you'll get new creases," Boh said.

"The neck, we'd like to normally treat it with the face," Tessler said about surgery.

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