Effects of visible light on the skin

Photochem Photobiol. 2008 Mar-Apr;84(2):450-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00286.x. Epub 2008 Jan 29.


Electromagnetic radiation has vast and diverse effects on human skin. Although photobiologic studies of sunlight date back to Sir Isaac Newton in 1671, most available studies focus on the UV radiation part of the spectrum. The effects of visible light and infrared radiation have not been, until recently, clearly elucidated. The goal of this review is to highlight the effects of visible light on the skin. As a result of advances in the understanding of skin optics, and comprehensive studies regarding the absorption spectrum of endogenous and exogenous skin chromophores, various biologic effects have been shown to be exerted by visible light radiation including erythema, pigmentation, thermal damage and free radical production. It has also been shown that visible light can induce indirect DNA damage through the generation of reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, a number of photodermatoses have an action spectrum in the visible light range, even though most of the currently available sunscreens offer, if any, weak protection against visible light. Conversely, because of its cutaneous biologic effects, visible light is used for the treatment of a variety of skin diseases and esthetic conditions in the form of lasers, intense pulsed light and photodynamic therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Skin / radiation effects*