Health

The Grime You Leave on Your Phone Says a Lot More About You Than You Think

Published On 12/06/2016 Published On 12/06/2016
cell phone grime
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If those embarrassing late-night texts and selfie outtakes weren't bad enough, there's something else on your phone that's guaranteed to make you cringe -- your own filth.

Think about how much of your day is spent touching and holding your beloved phone; each time you do, you leave behind a little bit of yourself. Turns out, that sheen from your greasy face and dirty fingers says a lot about you. And not just that you should've washed your hands after eating pizza for lunch. 

Scientists have discovered they can learn in-depth lifestyle habits of people just by swabbing their cellphones, like your very own grime profile.

The lotion you rubbed on your face, the coffee you drank that morning, the ingredients in your prescription medication, all make their way from your body to everything you touch. In a recent experiment, scientists were able to create so-called lifestyle sketches of each phone's user based on trace chemicals and microbes.

"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 study author Amina Bouslimani. That's incredibly specific!

Phone grime = the new DNA?

It sounds like an interesting enough science revelation, but what's the point of figuring out someone's preferred brand of lipstick or if they dye their hair other than just being totally nosy and invasive? Don't be surprised if this method winds up on your favorite crime drama as the new go-to in forensics; experts hope that this can be a useful tool in investigating crime scenes, especially if the more accurate DNA or fingerprints aren't available -- or aren't featured in the databases.  

Scientists also envision a world in the future where doctors would determine how well a person is sticking to their medication regimen using this method. Instead of, you know, straight-up asking the patient and trusting their answer. 

So is this yet another way for your phone to expose personal details about yourself? Do you have to worry about the NSA and biologists knowing everything about you? Researchers said this microbe correlation is more vague than it may seem at first glance -- just think of all the other people who love expensive mascara and drink craft beer and wear sunscreen. In order to create a more specific profile for each phone, there would need to be more molecules collected, and therefore a wider database to store all this info. This is a huge undertaking that no single lab is up for yet.  

Regardless, it's still interesting to think that someone in a lab could mock up an accurate depiction of your lifestyle with just a couple swipes of your phone -- and this is without even looking at your Instagram or Snapchat.

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. The quoted microbe profile sounds eerily familiar (minus the high-end cosmetics part). Follow her and her cheap mascara on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.

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