Report Shows That Headsets Reduce Exposure to Cell Phone Radiation

by Charlie Schick

A recent study by a UK consumers' association reported that headsets tripled the amount of specifically absorbed radiation (SAR) to the head during cell phone use. The conclusion was that the wire of the headset acted as an antenna and channeled unshielded radiation to the head.

Naturally, the UK Department of Trade and Industry was concerned, and hired a company (SARtest) that regularly tests for SAR. SARtest repeated the consumer association study and expanded it to a wider range of headsets and phones.

The results
SARtest found that headsets not only do not increase SAR levels to the head, they can actually reduce emitted radiation by 65 to 70%. The study further revealed that what caused some of the "worst-case" indications of high SAR levels was merely the improper arrangement of cell phone antennas and headset cords—looping the headset cord around the antenna, for example.

The study also revealed that most of the radiation is emitted toward the back of the phone. Therefore, the head is already well protected, especially with the newer phones with internal antennas. Using a headset, with the phone dialpad facing the body, protects the head even more. Of course, the directionality of the radiation does bring into question the amount of exposure to the hand. I've been taught that the hand can usually take more radiation than many other parts of the body, mostly due to tissue types. SARtest suggests further study of SAR involving other parts of the body in addition to the head.

A summary of the findings:

  • With normal use, headsets offer substantial reductions in SAR compared with conventional cell phone use, where the phone, rather than a headset, is held against the head.
  • Certain configurations have been found to cause SAR levels in the head when using headsets with cell phones. But such configurations involved only low SAR levels, and appeared in the area of the cheek rather than in the ear or near the brain. These conditions are considered to be highly unlikely and not typical with normal use.
  • If a cell phone is used with a headset, with the phone held against the body—in a pocket for example—placing the dialpad toward the body further reduces the possibility of radiation absorption.

I read the SARtest study, which suggests that headsets reduce exposure to cellular phone radiation, very closely. It contained interesting photographs depicting test setups and graphs of radiation intensities. Having had years of experience reading research papers, this study seems to be well designed and the results and conclusions seem valid.

I am still not convinced as to whether the levels of SAR from cellular phones are actually harmful. We are surrounded by electromagnetic radiation from many sources, such as basic electrical wiring, computer monitors, blow dryers, ordinary telephones, and from virtually any place where electrical current is flowing. As far as I can tell, this study does not state whether any of these SAR levels are harmful. Nonetheless, it does reinforce my recommendation for using headsets with cell phones. Not only do headsets free your hands for other tasks—including driving your car—they reduce the amount of radiation to your head. Hello Direct offers several cellular phone headsets. It's your call.