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The Thermal Effect of EMF & Its Role in Radiation Safety Standards

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The EMF safety standards for all devices with wireless connectivity are based on a concept called the thermal effect. And that’s where lies the fundamental flaw in our current EMF safety standards.

This post will have an in-depth look at the thermal effect, why it is an inadequate metric to determine EMF safety limits, and what you can do about it. So, let’s begin.

EMF Regulations & The Thermal Effect

The current EMF regulations we have are a messy hodgepodge of standards and enforcement agencies. But that’s a subject for another post.

But if we look at their core, virtually all of the EMF safety standards that exist today are based on the recommendations of the ICNIRP.

ICNIRP, or the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, is a regulatory division within the World Health Organization (WHO). And governments worldwide follow the ICNIRP to set their own EMF safety standards.

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Here’s what ICNIRP says is safe:

European power frequencyMobile phone base station frequencyMicrowave oven frequency
Frequency50 Hz50 Hz900 MHz1.8 GHz2.45 GHz
Electric field (V/m)Magnetic field (µT)Power density (W/m2)Power density (W/m2)Power density (W/m2)
Public exposure limits5 0001004.5910
Occupational exposure limits10 00050022.545

You may know that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets the maximum EMF emission levels for all cell phones in the US. Their limits are also based on these numbers. 

But the problem is that all ICNIRP standards are based on the thermal effect of EMF. And according to the experts, that’s not the best way to determine if an EMF source is safe.

The Thermal Effect, Cell Damage & Death

It’s no secret that getting burned is bad for you. Not only does it cause immense pain and take a lot of time to heal, but it actually kills your cells and your DNA.

And you don’t even need to get burned. This kind of damage occurs when your body is heated, way before the burn factor begins.

This is because when your body is heated, it triggers something called the heat shock response in your cells. That’s your body interpreting the heat as a threat and taking necessary measures to defend itself.

Sometimes your body can muster sufficient defenses to fend off the threat. But sometimes it can’t. And this can lead to damage to your DNA. Which, in turn, can lead to mutations and unnatural cell death.

So, even if something doesn’t emit enough heat to literally burn your skin, it can still do a lot of damage to your cells. And that damage can easily turn into diseases, such as cancer. (That’s why it’s so important to wear sunblock, for example.)

EMF Can Cause the Thermal Effect

Now, EMF is an energy, just like electricity and fire. So, because of this, EMF has the ability to cause thermal effect in your body. Prolonged exposure to this energy can heat your body and your cells. 

You may already know that, because that’s exactly how a microwave oven works. A microwave oven emits microwave EMF radiation in an enclosed space that’s powerful enough to cook your food.

So, everyone knows and agrees that enough EMF radiation can trigger the thermal effect, heat your body, and thus cause DNA damage, mutations, and cell death.

But unlike most EMF-emitting gadgets, microwave ovens emit a lot of power. Other EMF-emitting devices like cell phones, laptops, and tablets fade in comparison to how much EMF a microwave oven emits.

The level at which your electronic gadgets emit EMF is called non-thermal levels.

Our current EMF safety standards are based on the kind of heat your microwave oven generates to cook your food. If your cell phone and laptop don’t emit as much EMF to heat your body, our current EMF standards consider them safe.

But experts say that EMF doesn’t need to be as powerful as it is from a microwave oven to trigger thermal effects in our bodies.

The Thermal Effect is Insufficient

Now, in many of my other posts on this website, I have explored why using the thermal standard for EMF emissions is dangerous and vastly insufficient to protect our health.

That’s because a massive body of high-quality science dating back decades demonstrates a wide range of adverse health effects from non-thermal exposure to EMF radiation. Though it isn’t powerful enough to heat your tissues, this EMF can still do a lot of damage to your health. Have a look.

Oxidative Stress

Your body creates something called free radicals as a part of your metabolic process. These are waste materials that need to be stopped from overgrowing and having chemical reactions. And because of this, your body also creates something called antioxidants. Their job is to look for free radicals and limit what they do to your body.

At any given moment, there needs to be a healthy balance between the number of free radicals and antioxidants your body produces. You generally don’t have to worry about this because your body is excellent at maintaining this balance.

However, some things can cause your body to produce more free radicals than the antioxidants in your body can handle. For example, unhealthy diets, obesity, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and certain medications.

When that happens, you begin to suffer from problems ranging from heart diseases and diabetes to sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction.

Recent studies have found that prolonged EMF exposure also plays a significant role in the massive increase of people suffering from oxidative stress.

Here’s one of the many examples.

In 2021, an interdisciplinary Swiss expert group performed a research study to analyze the link between prolonged EMF exposure and oxidative stress. For this study, they used small rodents and exposed them to RF-EMF.

After long exposure, here’s how they concluded their study: “The majority of the animal and more than half of the cell studies provided evidence of increased oxidative stress caused by RF-EMF or ELF-MF.”

Inadequate Immune System

Your immune system is the greatest defense you have against a plethora of bacteria and viruses. It protects you on a daily basis, and it also heals your body if there’s damage.

So, as you’ve no doubt realized, it’s crucial that this system functions correctly.


Research studies say that prolonged EMF exposure interferes with the communication between our brain and the immune system. Because of this, the immune system can’t function properly, weakening your body’s defenses against bacteria and virus attacks.

You can learn more about the link between prolonged EMF exposure and a weakened immune system in my post “EMF and Your Immune System.

Underperforming Endocrine System

Your endocrine system is also one of the most crucial systems in your body. It facilitates bodily functions like:

  • Respiration
  • Metabolism
  • Reproduction
  • Sensory perception
  • Movement
  • Sexual development
  • Growth

Research says that prolonged EMF exposure interferes with the communication between your brain and the endocrine system, just like it does with the immune system. This results in problems like:

  • Rapid weight changes
  • Sleep disorders
  • Skin issues
  • Poor bone strength
  • Unexplained changes in blood sugar and diabetes
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Thinning hair
  • Infertility
  • Reduced libido and ED

Learn more about the relationship between EMF exposure and an underperforming endocrine system in my post “EMF and Endocrine System.

Neurological Problems

Since our brain uses electrical signals to communicate with our body, it’s extremely sensitive to EMF exposure.

Research studies say that prolonged EMF exposure to the brain results in problems like:

  • Albumin leakage through the blood-brain barrier
  • Nerve cell damage
  • Effects on neurophysiology
  • Impaired learning and memory
  • Neurological cognitive disorders and more

Learn more about the neurological impacts of EMF in my post “EMF & Brain Health.”

There are More…

These are just a few of the many health problems that tag along with prolonged EMF exposure. If you want to learn more about EMF-induced health effects, you can visit my page called “The Health Effects of EMF.”

The FCC Doesn’t Take These Effects into Account

Although tons of studies demonstrate the non-thermal effects of EMF exposure, the ICNIRP disagrees with them.

According to the FCC:

At relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation, i.e., levels lower than those that would produce significant heating; the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven… A number of reports have appeared in the scientific literature describing the observation of a range of biological effects resulting from exposure to low-levels of RF energy.  However, in most cases, further experimental research has been unable to reproduce these effects.  Furthermore… there has been no determination that such effects constitute a human health hazard.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that the thermal effects of EMF radiation are regulated. But the problem is, these regulations just protect you from the short-term effects of excessive thermal levels of EMF that are sufficient to create a heating effect in human tissue. 

But do these regulations even protect you from the thermal effects in the real world?

Laptops and the Thermal Effect

Experts say that current EMF regulations, although based on the thermal effect, don’t even protect from that. And here’s why.

Take laptops, for example. If regulations are designed to protect our bodies from being heated, they are clearly not doing a good job with laptops. 

Because our laptops get HOT. And we’ve all felt it.

And when your laptop gets so hot that you can feel it heating your body, it’s creating the precise type of damage that these EMF safety regulations are supposedly designed to protect us from.

And laptops are a particularly egregious example of this because they’re designed to be used in your lap.

In fact, “laptop burn is a real condition, and medical reports indicate that using a laptop across the legs can indeed cause it…the condition can cause damage leading to skin cancer.”Laptop heat emissions are such a concern that they’ve even given rise to the incidence of “toasted skin syndrome.” (These are just two of the dangers of using your laptop in your lap.)’

The Loophole

Now, some manufacturers have changed the names of these products to remove the word “lap.” For example, the terms “notebooks” or “MacBooks” do not mention the word “lap.”

So, even though we all call them laptops, and many of us use our laptops in our laps, some of the manufacturers try to skirt that reality by changing the names of these products.

But not all of them. 

Take Dell, for example. They have a “laptop store” on their website. 

Dell has a ‘laptop store’ on the website, so they don’t try to pretend to call these portable computers anything else.

So, Dell explicitly calls these portable computers “laptops.”

And Dell knows for a fact that you’re not supposed to use these devices in your lap.

How do I know that?

Because I read manuals.

“To avoid the possibility of exceeding the FCC radio frequency exposure limits, you should keep a distance of at least 20 cm between you (or any other person in the vicinity) and the antenna that is built into the laptop.”

Tell me, how is it that you’re supposed to use a device in your lap while maintaining 20 centimeters (almost 8 inches) of distance from that device?

The simple answer is you can’t.

This is how far Dell says to keep your “laptop” away from your body.

And this is a crystal-clear example of how the regulations designed to protect us – these safety standards based on the thermal effect – don’t actually protect us.

The Thermal Effect Standard is Failing Us

Now, there are a lot of reasons why safety standards are inadequate. (I have a separate post that explains EMF Standards and the many problems with them in-depth.) Reliance on the thermal effect is just one of many reasons. But it’s a critical one – since the thermal effect is the basis of all EMF safety standards and regulations that govern the products we surround ourselves with and use all day, every day.

The thermal effect fails to account for the wide range of negative health effects we see resulting from non-thermal exposures – but even more egregiously, as we’ve just seen in the example of laptops, regulations based on the thermal effect don’t even protect us against the thermal effect!

So, What Can You Do?

There are many organizations fighting to replace our current EMF safety standards with something that’s actually safe for public health. And that’s really good. But how long will it take to make that change?

Our gadgets are emitting all types of EMFs today. And we’re being exposed to those EMFs in unprecedented amounts. So, what I want you to do is to take the matter into your own hands.

No, I don’t want you to fight with the government or tech companies.

(Although there’s a way you can contribute to making a real change in the way people perceive EMF. Visit my “EMF Advocacy Training” page for more information.)

What I am talking about is changing the way you use tech to ensure that you enjoy the benefits of technology without having to face the risks that tag along. Here are some of the things you can do to start reducing your EMF exposure.

Minimize Use & Maximize Distance

I have said this probably a hundred times in my posts, talks, webinars, and podcasts— “The Best EMF Protection is Always Free.” And the key to reducing your EMF exposure boils down to two simple rules: minimize use & maximize distance.

The first rule of EMF protection asks you to minimize your tech use as much as you can. This doesn’t have to hurt your necessary daily use of gadgets (e.g. for work). Here are a few examples.

  • Instead of mindlessly scrolling social media, you can pick up a new offline hobby
  • Turn off your WiFi router at night when you’re sleeping and not using the internet

You can find a window in which you don’t use your gadgets and instead focus on doing something offline.

That’s the first rule of EMF mitigation—use your tech less.

The second rule demands you keep your EMF sources as far away from your body as possible. That’s because, according to the inverse square law of physics, the power of EMF weakens with distance. So, the farther you are from an EMF source, the weaker the EMF coming towards you will be.

Here are a few examples highlighting how you can achieve this.

  • Keep your WiFi router at least 5 meters away from the area where you spend the most time
  • Use the speakerphone feature, or a wired headset, instead of holding your phone against your head while making a call

Remember each millimeter of distance you add between EMF sources and your body matters.

Ground Your Body

You may have heard of the term grounding or earthing. It’s a simple act of placing your body in direct contact with the earth’s surface.

Grounding your body allows you to absorb the earth’s natural magnetic fields, which is said to have many benefits. And it helps with the symptoms of prolonged EMF exposure as well.

See, when you expose yourself to human-made EMF radiation, you absorb positively charged ions. And despite their name, positively charged ions are bad for humans.

Earthing Benefits

Grounding your body allows you to absorb the negative ions which you can find in abundance in nature.

These negative ions can make you feel less stressed and at ease. They also enter your bloodstream and enhance the serotonin levels in your body.

Besides that, the process of grounding is also said to help with problems like EMF-induced depression and anxiety.

I’ve written a separate post explaining grounding in-depth. So, give it a read. 

Exercise and Follow Proper Nutrition

Though human-made EMFs are extremely powerful, you can build your body to be more resilient against their effects.

Millennia of evolution has trained our bodies to be resilient to EMF’s ill effects to a degree. However, evidently, it’s not enough.

But you can enhance this resilience through regular exercise and proper nutrition.

Here’s an amazing post by building biologist Cathy Cooke recommending foods you should eat to build a strong defense against EMF.  

Use EMF Shielding Products

Though the most efficient way to reduce your EMF exposure is to stay far from your gadgets and keep their use to the bare minimum, you can get additional help with EMF shielding products.

There are many manufacturers in the market (including my company, Shield Your Body) that make and sell lab-tested EMF shielding products, which you can use to double your EMF protection.

But keep in mind that EMF shielding products are the second line of defense, and are in no way a complete substitute for other efforts to mitigate your EMF exposure.

Check out our wide catalog of lab-tested EMF shieling products from Shield Your Body.

Final Thoughts

Though EMF is a significant threat to your health, it’s not the only risk associated with modern technology. Prolonged tech use can affect you physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. So, you need to take a holistic approach when it comes to mitigating the risks from your gadgets.

Learn how on “The Healthier Tech Podcast,” where experts from several industries share their knowledge on benefitting from modern tech without being subject to the health risks that come along with it.

Where do you carry your phone?

Want to Slash Your EMF Health Risks?

Good! Learn the one small change you should make right now.

Want to learn more about EMF?

Try these related articles...

About the Author

R Blank is the CEO of Shield Your Body, which he founded in 2012. With hundreds of thousands of customers in over 30 countries, and having been interviewed on platforms including Dr. Phil, ABC news television and ElectricSense, R is an internationally followed expert on issues of EMF, health and safety. He also hosts “The Healthier Tech Podcast”, available Apple, Spotify and all major podcasting platforms. In the past, he served on the faculty at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz. Previously, R ran a software engineering firm in Los Angeles, producing enterprise-level solutions for blue chip clients including Medtronic, Apple, NBC, Toyota, Disney, Microsoft, the NFL, Ford, IKEA and Mattel. He has spoken at conferences around the world, including in the US, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and he is the co-author, along with his father Dr. Martin Blank, of ‘Overpowered‘ from Seven Stories Press about the science of health effects of EMF radiation. He has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and received his bachelor’s degree, with honors, from Columbia University. He has also studied at Cambridge University in the UK; the University of Salamanca in Spain; and the Institute of Foreign Languages in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Read more about R and SYB or connect with R on LinkedIn.

Have a Question?

I take pride in designing great, effective products, based on real, measurable science – AND taking the time to ensure that each and every one of you has the information you need to understand EMF and make informed decisions.

So if you have a question, just email me and ask.

R Blank

R Blank