At the beginning of quarantine, stores couldn't keep hand sanitizers and toilet paper in stock. Next thing we knew, everything from Clorox wipes to breathable Adidas' face masks followed sold-out suit. The latest item that has shoppers clamouring to cart it up? UV-sanitizing devices that disinfect phones, keys, and other high-touch daily essentials. But, as with any new tech craze, this popular product now begs the question: Does it work? And, more importantly, is it even safe? Before you too get wooed by one of these sleek boxes or pouches promising sanitized surfaces in under 60 seconds, here's everything you need to know about it. Scroll on to see out what a doctor has to say about the pros and cons of using a UV-sanitizing device and whether it's ultimately a purchase you want to make.
What are UV-sanitizing devices?
The whole idea behind these devices is that, through the power of UV rays, they offer dry and contactless sanitation for things that you might not deep-clean on a regular basis. "There are three types of UV light, which include UVA, UVB and UVC lights," New York City-based internist Dr. Sunitha D. Posina, MD, tells Refinery29. "UVC is the smallest wavelength — about 200 to 400 nm — but extremely powerful and is known to have a germicidal effect." While there are a couple of different types of devices featuring similar UV technologies (boxes, pouches, and wands being among the most popular), they all aim to do the same thing: zap bacteria off surfaces with powerful, UVC emitting LED lights and no heat, liquids, or chemicals required.
Is it safe to use UV-sanitizing devices?
While these UV devices do effectively kill bacteria, they aren't completely without risks: You already know that UVA and UVB exposure from the sun can put you at risk for skin cancer, and according to Dr. Posina, UVC has also been linked to DNA damage and cataracts. "It does kill bacteria and viruses effectively, but can also be carcinogenic." However, it's important to note that while UVC exposure from these devices is relatively minimal, it is necessary to keep it away from your eyes and skin while the device is in use. Virtually all of the devices on the market have a clear indicator light that shines whenever it is in use (in other words, if you see it shining then keep that lid shut) — and many are also equipped with automatic shut-off timers that deactivate the light within ten minutes. "NYC subways and some offices use devices with UVC light to sterilize the spaces, but only used when not in the direct vicinity of others," Dr. Posina adds. "Phone cleaning devices shouldn't pose a health hazard, especially if you are not in the room during use."
Do UV-sanitizing devices protect against COVID-19?
"To date, the effectiveness of these devices with UVC light remains unclear," Dr. Sunitha D. Posina explains. "Since multiple companies are producing these devices, it is advisable to do some preliminary research to determine their reliability." You've probably heard it a million times already, but: constant hand-washing and mask-wearing is the best way to prevent contracting and spreading coronavirus. And, if you're looking for an alternative to the UV-sanitizing device that's just as tough on germs but safe for your screens and your body, then we'd suggest the following: in addition to minimizing phone use while out in public (and therefore reducing the risk of spreading germs from a grocery cart or a doorknob), be sure to also keep a pack of antibacterial alcohol-based cleaning wipes on hand.