I want to make sure that you’re aware that if you’ve been told your cellphone is dangerous—or that your Bluetooth headphones are going to give you cancer—you’re the victim of misinformation designed to exploit a data void about the safety of these devices.
None of the available research has proven any effect on humans, and yet: search Google for “is Bluetooth dangerous?” and you’ll be met by nothing but sites that sell RF protectors, junk science, and even journalists duped into parroting falsehoods. It’s an unfortunate situation, but we’ve seen it happen many times before. However, I’m not the kind of guy to leave you hanging.
Is Bluetooth dangerous?
If someone wants to know the possible health concerns surrounding Bluetooth, they’re told by Google:
- “Cellphone radiation” is dangerous, buy these protective trinkets!
- Wireless tech increases the incidence of a rare tumor called a schwannoma
- Bluetooth increases the risk of cancer
- Cellphones can cause a drop in male fertility
- Bluetooth and other RF tech increases incidence of autism, ADHD, and behavioral disorders
- Bluetooth can microwave your brain like, you know, an actual microwave
- Bluetooth headphones cause depression
- Bluetooth headphones cause nerve cell death
Any normal person looking at all that would be horrified. And why shouldn’t they be? Their music habit is going to fry their brain, make them sterile, and give them cancer?! But is that really true? Seems like someone would have noticed that and done something by now, right?
In order to find the answer to our question, we need to find the answers to a few things, namely:
- How could Bluetooth possibly harm a cell, cause cancer, or otherwise hurt you?
- Does Bluetooth have the power to do so?
- Is there scientific finding to support the notion that Bluetooth is harmful or harmless?
Let’s dig in.
Can Bluetooth hurt your cells? Can it cause cancer?
No. The ability of Bluetooth to harm someone boils down to its ability to affect cells, and DNA. However, Bluetooth isn’t a type of radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR) capable of causing cancer.
In order for radiation to cause cancer in a cell, it has to break the bonds of the molecules that make up your DNA to the point where the information is changed upon cell division. The only way to do that is with a certain type of radiation called “ionizing radiation.” When ionizing radiation damages your DNA, it knocks electrons out of atoms and molecules, changing the properties of the atoms and breaking bonds in the DNA’s component molecules. Should enough radiation of that type be applied, it’s possible to damage the DNA enough that errors happen when the cell reproduces—potentially causing tumor cell growth.
Bluetooth is what’s called non-ionizing radiation—because it can’t knock electrons out of the base molecules needed to replicate your cells. It’s much different than, say, gamma radiation or rubbing yourself down with enriched uranium. While many of the studies cited by scare groups and industry trolls contain some anecdotes of tumors being grown, there’s no proven link between cancer incidence and even ridiculously high rates of cellphone RF EMR.
When the WHO says that non-ionizing radiation like cell phones and Bluetooth use is “potentially cancerous,” it’s much in the same vein that I’m a “potential batmobile recipient.” We don’t know that it’s totally impossible, but saying that it’ll never happen is selling short our ability as humans to do impressively stupid things. Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellphone radiation do not have the power to damage DNA on its own.
Now, there was a study performed by the National Toxicology Program with equivocal evidence of RF EMR causing certain tumors, but that was only possible with an absolutely ridiculous exposure regimen. Mice and rats were blasted with 2G cell signals blasted at 2-7 times the normal exposure limit over their entire bodies for 9 hours a day for two years (and in utero). The incidences of tumors were so low that upon peer review, the panel noted that the math used to determine statistical significance was not only suspect, but the populations were mostly within the statistically-observed control rates to begin with. One peer-reviewer found that the power would be 14% for that population, meaning that the study stood a high chance of kicking back false positive findings. Many point to this study as clear evidence of cancer, but a closer read will tell you that the evidence is far less clear than they want you to believe.
Given that Bluetooth at maximum doses you with less than 1/1,000th the output levels tested, we can safely ignore this study for this particular topic.
If you were in a room with a lot of Bluetooth devices, can they cook you like a microwave?
Microwaves use overwhelming power to excite water molecules in the things they cook. While it’s true they use radio frequencies in the same range as Bluetooth, the difference in power is staggering. Typical microwaves typically use 1,200 Watts (W) of power, and as an unfortunate owner of one of these pieces of crap, I can tell you it takes a lot of power to do tissue damage.
Bluetooth devices like headphones vary in power output, but here’s the rundown:
- Bluetooth class 1 emitters max out at 100mW
- Bluetooth class 2 emitters max out at 2.5mW
- Bluetooth class 3 emitters max out at 1mW
Now, I should point out that mW means “one thousandth of a Watt,” meaning that you’d need 12,000 class 1 Bluetooth emitters like cellphones running at full power, directly mashed onto your skin to dose yourself with the same power a microwave could. Oh yeah, didn’t I tell you that non-ionizing RF emissions lose power dramatically over a distance? Bluetooth’s power decay follows the inverse square law, so every time you double the distance from the emitter to the subject, only 1/4 of the power reaches.
All of the figures listed here are the power outputs at the source, and not at the receiver. Even if you removed the casings, you could only fit 456 iPhone X handsets (5.65″ x 2.79″ x 0.3″) into my current microwave (18″ x 10″ x 12″), to reach 45.6 Watts of Class 1 Bluetooth RF EMR or —far short of the 1,200 Watts needed to match a common microwave. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Bluetooth to harm you, but it does paint a ridiculous picture of what it might take.
Can Bluetooth make me sterile?
No, and after how many times I’ve carried upwards of ten phones in my pocket for testing, the existence of baby Thomas seems to disprove that theory, but there’s other evidence that phones can’t make you sterile. Now that we’ve established that Bluetooth and cellphones can’t damage your cells, what about your most vulnerable bits?
But cellphones are really good at creating something else that's good at frying your huevos: heat.
In several studies, lower sperm counts were noted based on heavy use of cellphones. But heavy use of cellphones is a really good way to create something else that’s good at frying your huevos: heat. This confounding factor makes it very difficult to tell whether it was the phone, or the heat that led to the drop in sperm motility in the handful of studies that found it.
Is there scientific finding to support the notion that Bluetooth is harmful?
The truth is there’s no proof low-power RF EMR can damage cells. While there’s a theory that cellphones are strong enough to stimulate cells into doing things like leach calcium, or temporarily suppress glucose absorption by the brain: so far the findings of different researchers completely contradict each other. When that happens, it’s a good sign there’s not a strong relationship there. I say this because these scary-sounding events—if true—would be apparent by other signs including a dramatic increase in a couple types of cancer, and so far: that hasn’t happened. Notice how there’s no relationship between cell phone use and cancer incidence as a whole? Notice the lack of uptick in brain cancer as well?
Most experts feel that these claims don’t merit a response: they’re obvious bunk, so giving them the attention is wasted effort—and addressing these concerns could lead someone to believe that this is an issue with two sides worthy of consideration. But the truth is, this is just another time where there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. If you want to learn more about the National Toxicology Program studies and Razzamini studies that are often used to justify anti-wireless efforts, we discuss them in a sister article on Android Authority discussing the advent of 5G cell signals.