Not just skin deep

Swedish researcher Olle Johansson has found that EMR affects the skin

Since the late 1970s there have been numerous complaints that VDT use has resulted in workers developing severe skin problems known as screen dermatitis. Symptoms include pain, itching, heat, erythema, papules and pustules. In Sweden the problem has reached such dimensions that The Association of the Electrically and VDT Injured (FEB) had 1800 paying members by 1995. More recently the Swedish Union of Clerical and Technical Employees in Industry (SIF) launched the “Noll Risk” concept designed to reduce workplace exposure.

Dr. Olle Johansson has been at the forefront of research into the effects of electromagnetic radiation on the skin and has found measurable biological differences among people suffering from screen dermatitis.

Johansson investigated skin samples from three groups of subjects: VDU workers with subjective symptoms; VDT users with objective symptoms and healthy controls with no skin problems. He found that skin samples from the two groups with symptoms had abnormal patterns of nerve fibres in the dermis, compared to controls (1996).

In another experiment, Johansson exposed two subjects suffering from screen dermatitis to EMR provocation which involved sitting 40 - 50 cm from a TV set. Skin and blood samples were taken before and after exposure. Those samples taken before the provocation showed “a remarkably high number of SOM-immunoreactive dendritic cells” in the dermis and a large number of histamine-positive mast cells (associated with allergies). Interestingly, after exposure, skin showed no evidence of SOM-immunoreactive cells and no changes in histamine cells. There was, however, a change in the blood level of pancreatic polypeptides (1994).

From these and other studies, Johansson concluded that “it is evident that biological changes are present in the patients claiming to suffer from “screen dermatitis” and EMF exposure” (1997).

Whether or not VDT work caused the observable abnormalities in “screen dermatitis” subjects’ skin is unclear from Johansson’s work. However, that measurable changes occurred in the skin after subjects were exposed to electromagnetic fields, indicates that the effects of exposure are real and not to be dismissed as psychosomatic.

Johansson, O. et al., Skin changes in patients claiming to suffer from “screen dermatitis”: a two-case open-field provocation study, Exp Dermatol 1994: 3: 234-8


Johansson, O. et al., A screening of skin changes, with special emphasis on neurochemical marker antibody evaluation, in patients claiming to suffer from “screen dermatitis” as compared to normal healthy controls, Exp Dermatol 1996: 5: 279-85.

Gangi, S. and Johansson, O., Skin changes in “screen dermatitis” versus classical UV- and ionizing irradiation-related damage - similarities and differences, Exp. Dermatol 1997: 6: 283-91

EMRAA News Mar 2000, Vol 5 No 1