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Your Phone Is Covered in Molecules That Reveal Personal Lifestyle Secrets

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There are many ways your phone can provide glimpses into your personality: Your choice of apps, your music and photos, even the brand of smartphone you buy, to name a few. But new research reveals another surprising piece to the what-your-cell-says-about-you puzzle. Turns out analyzing the molecules, chemicals, and microbes left behind on a mobile device can tell a lot about its owner—including the person's diet, health status, probable gender, and more.    

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that this type of profiling could one day be useful for clinical trials, medical monitoring, airport screenings, and criminal investigations. It also serves as a reminder of the lasting chemical residues of the foods we eat, the cosmetics we wear, and the places we visit. In some cases, researchers could pinpoint ingredients from personal-care products that the owner of the phone hadn’t used in six months!

"You can imagine a scenario where a crime-scene investigator comes across a personal object—like a phone, pen, or key—without fingerprints or DNA, or with prints or DNA not found in the database," said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in a press release. "So we thought—what if we take advantage of left-behind skin chemistry to tell us what kind of lifestyle this person has?"

RELATED: A Smart Guide to Scary Chemicals

Dorrestein’s previous research has shown that molecules analyzed from skin swabs tend to contain traces of hygiene and beauty products, even when people haven’t applied them for a few days. "All of these chemical traces on our bodies can transfer to objects," Dorrestein said. "So we realized we could probably come up with a profile of a person's lifestyle based on chemistries we can detect on objects they frequently use."

For their new study, Dorrestein and his colleagues swabbed four spots on the cell phones of 39 volunteers, and used a technique called mass spectrometry to detect molecules from those samples. Then, they compared those molecules with ones indexed in a large, crowd-sourced reference database run by UCSD.

With this information, the researchers developed a personalized lifestyle "read-out" from each phone. They were able to determine certain medications that the volunteers took—including anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal skin creams, hair loss treatments, antidepressants, and eye drops. They could identify food that had recently been eaten, such as citrus, caffeine, herbs, and spices. And they detected chemicals, like those found in sunscreen and bug spray, months after they’d last been used by the phones’ owners.

RELATED: 6 Ways Your Mobile Devices Are Hurting Your Body

"By analyzing the molecules they've left behind on their phones, we could tell if a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray—and therefore likely spends a lot of time outdoors—all kinds of things," said first author Amina Bouslimani, PhD, an assistant project scientist in Dorrestein's lab. In fact, the researchers were able to correctly predict that one study participant was a camper or backpacker because of residue from DEET and sunscreen ingredients on her phone.

This was a proof-of-concept study, meaning that it only showed that the technology exists—not that it's ready for market. To develop even more precise profiles, and to be useful in the real world, the researchers say more molecules are needed in the reference database. They hope it will grow to include more common items including foods, clothing materials, carpets, and paints, for example.

Dorrestein and Bouslimani are conducting further studies with an additional 80 people and samples from other personal objects, such as wallets and keys. They hope that eventually, molecular profiles will be useful in medical and environmental settings.

Doctors might employ this technique to determine whether a patient really is taking his or her medication, for example. Or scientists could use it to determine people’s exposure to toxins in high-risk workplaces or neighborhoods near potential pollution sources. And, of course, molecular profiling could help criminal investigators by narrowing down the potential owners of objects, or understanding people’s habits based on items they touch, they wrote in their paper.

RELATED: These Personality Traits Are Linked to a Healthier Sex Life

As creepy as all this may sound, personality-specific microbes likely aren't the most alarming things hiding on your cell phone. Other research shows that our tech devices are popular spots for germs like the flu virus and antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Unless you plan to rob a bank and leave your phone behind as evidence, germs are probably your biggest threat at the moment. To keep buildup to a minimum, and harmful bugs at bay, try to remember to clean your screen and case regularly with a disinfectant wipe.

Also check out healthywithjodi.com

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Your path to healthy skin

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Looking for natural remedies to treat acne, eczema and other skin conditions? The dermatologist and nutritionist share their expert tips.

 

The experts show us how to optimise your diet for clearer, healthier, brighter skin. 

ACNE

» Dermatologist says: “Look for products that are non-comedogenic, so they do not block pores or cause acne. Key pore-clearing ingredients include salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acids) and many vitamin A products. Also look for anti-inflammatory components such as benzoyl peroxide, zinc and niacinamide. You should look for products that are not too creamy or rich. Even without pore-blocking ingredients, oily or excessively moisturising products will have a detrimental effect on the skin. Go for mineral make-up and combination creams like BB and CC creams.”

» Nutritionist says: “Consume a diet low in added sugars and avoid all highly refined, processed foods. Consume three to five cups of bright-coloured vegetables per day and consider supplements such as zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C. There are also natural, DIY methods. Antibacterial tea tree oil and witch hazel are often used on acne-prone skin. Or try combining sea salt and coconut oil and using as a natural exfoliate scrub for congested skin.”

ECZEMA 

» Dermatologist says: “Corticosteroids or calcineurin antagonists may be used to help reduce inflammation and itch. Antihistamines may also help reduce the itch, while antibiotics may be required if infections are severe. Stick to cotton clothing, avoiding wool and synthetics, and you can also use wet dressings to help soothe the skin and reduce itchiness. Cosmetics are best avoided, but if necessary, look for ones that are hypoallergenic. Generally, food avoidance is not useful, but avoiding dairy products, nuts, eggs, chocolate, citrus fruits and wheat products may help.”

» Nutritionist says: “Implement an elimination diet to determine possible food triggers, consume an anti-inflammatory, plant-based, whole food diet and consider supplements such as fish oil, vitamin E and probiotics. For eczema, coconut oil may also be of benefit as it’s deeply moisturising and improves skin barrier function. Honey is also great, incorporated into a DIY face mask. It’s antibacterial and a humectant, attracting water to help keep dry skin hydrated.”

COLD SORES

» Dermatologist says: “Overtopical astringents and topical Zovirax (acyclovir), cold sores are best treated by oral treatments of anti-virals like acyclovir, valalcyclovir and Famciclovir.”

» Nutritionist says: “Address aggravating factors like food, lifestyle and stress. Avoid chocolate, peanuts and almonds and try to manage stress levels. Start incorporating foods that are high in lysine such as fish, chicken, beef, lamb, cheese, beans, brewer’s yeast and mung bean sprouts and take supplements like lysine, zinc and vitamin C.”

PSORIASIS 

» Dermatologist says: “There is no single treatment that will cure psoriasis. However, it is possible to control it and sometimes clear it. Certain medications can slow down the rate at which the skin cells are produced, but it takes several weeks for your condition to improve. Sunlight helps to clear psoriasis, which is why it usually improves over summer. Remember that psoriatic skin is more easily damaged than normal skin, so you may need to consider skin protection if your job involves hard, manual work.”

» Nutritionist says: “Look into possible food sensitivities and avoid potential triggers such as alcohol, gluten and dairy. Consume three to five cups of fresh vegetables per day and include turmeric, garlic and ginger. Supplements to take alongside may include fish oil, digestive enzymes, vitamin E and vitamin A.”

Check out our health and beauty section for more tips and tricks.

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8 Celebrities on How They Really Feel About Botox

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In a recent Lenny Letter, actress Amanda Peet explained that she plans to stay Botox-free because she wants to set an example for her two young daughters, who are "growing up smack in the heart of America's youth-obsessed beauty culture."

But, she confessed, she's also scared: "I'm afraid one visit to a cosmetic dermatologist would be my gateway drug. I'd go in for a tiny, circumscribed lift and come out looking like a blowfish."

Whether you're philosophilcally against injectables or you wholeheartedly embrace them, everyone seems to have an opinion. Here, eight Hollywood stars open up about aging naturally, or not.

RELATED: 17 Celebrities Explain Why Getting Older Is Actually Awesome

"I've bleached my teeth, dyed my hair, peeled and lasered my face, and tried a slew of age-defying creams. More than once, I've asked the director of photography on a show to soften my laugh lines. Nothing about this suggests I'm aging gracefully. Yet for me, it would be crossing the Rubicon to add Botox and fillers into the mix."

—Amanda Peet, Lenny Letter, April 2016

“I’m not advocating for it one way or another, I’m just saying Botox changed my life.”

—Kelly Ripa, “Watch What Happens Live”, July 2012

“There is also this pressure in Hollywood to be ageless. I think what I have been witness to, is seeing women trying to stay ageless with what they are doing to themselves. I am grateful to learn from their mistakes, because I am not injecting s**t into my face.”

—Jennifer Aniston, Yahoo! Beauty, December 2014

“If it makes you happier and more confident, then why not? But I also think you have to do your research, so you know what to expect—that you'll look fresher but not necessarily younger. I don't want to age, but hey, what can you do? It's a natural process. I'm trying to do it gracefully”

—Sofia Vergara, InStyle Magazine, October 2014

RELATED: 11 Celebrirites on What They Think About Their Breasts

“My goal is to never get Botox. Or any other filler or injectable, for that matter…I don’t hate on people who get Botox; I would just prefer to do everything a more natural way. We don’t know the long-term effects of that stuff, and it doesn’t seem right to me. We are supposed to age—that’s part of life!”

—Kristin Cavallari, Balancing In Heels ($25; amazon.com), March 2016

"Sometimes I use Botox. One time I did too much, though. I feel weird if I can’t move my face, and that one time I overdid it, I felt trapped in my own skin. I don’t have a problem with any of that stuff; if it makes you feel better about yourself and it’s done properly, then fine."

—Courteney Cox, InStyle Magazine, July 2010

“Everyone always thinks I've had my nose done or my lips done or just anything to my face like besides Botox, which to me isn't plastic surgery.”

—Kim Kardashian, Harper’s Bazaar’s The Look, July 2012

“LA scares the crap out of me. I feel if I have to work out four hours a day, and count the calories of everything I put in my mouth, and have Botox at 22, and obsess about how I look the whole time, I will go mad, I will absolutely lose it.”

—Emma Watson, Harper’s Bazaar UK, August 2011

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