There is emerging evidence that the visible light spectrum may be causing us skin damage, meaning that inside lighting and general daylight could be causing premature signs of ageing.
The visible light spectrum runs from the edge of UVC, where it hits violet, to where red turns into infrared light at the other end. This frequency spectrum is labelled with numbers measured in nanometres (nm), and each colour or frequency band has a number in the hundreds or thousands.
Frequencies that we can measure run from very high frequency gamma rays, to x-rays, UVA (long-wave UV), B (mid-range UV), and C (short-wave UV), then comes the visible light spectrum. On the other side of the light we can perceive with our eyes is infrared – near, mid and far – and then microwave, FM and AM radiowaves, and then longer radio waves.
You can think of gamma rays as being a short person taking a lot of steps, while radio waves are a tall person taking fewer steps, as they walk side by side.
The visible light spectrum has its own effects on cells, a phenomena that hasn’t been well researched. In cosmetic dermatology, half the equipment in our clinics are different light and wave-based technologies that harness the impact of energy waves on cells to repair skin damage and blemishes, but what about the ambient light that is around us every time we go outside? The jury is out.
Visible light can damage skin too, researchers say. UVA – long-wave ultra violet rays – and visible light are believed to damage cells, in particular those that produce keratin. UVA rays, while not visible to the naked eye (which is what the ‘ultra’ in ultraviolet means, since violet is the last colour on the visible light spectrum before UVC) are known to stimulate a pigment called lipofuscin, which acts like a photosensitiser to visible light in the skin. What this means in plain English is that UVA – which we can’t see – intensifies the effect of the visible light rays, allowing them to be more damaging than without the UVA present.
A physical barrier or sunscreen that contains colour (preferably the same colour as the skin it is on, a group of researchers say) is the only thing that can protect from this combined effect, since the UVA effect on the keratin-producing cells still occurs with many regular sunscreens. UVB is the UV that causes sunburn, while UVA causes deeper damage. UVA damage is deeper than visible light, but the damage is equivalent, researchers say, which over the long term presents itself as ageing skin.
UVB damages skin because the radiation is absorbed directly by the epidermal cell DNA, with a much quicker response – redness in pale-skinned people (a.k.a. sunburn). We also need protection from UVB rays, which are much more toxic to our cells than UVA rays.
Keratinocytes are the first victims of UVA, while both melanocytes and keratinocytes are damaged by visible light. While visible light is far less damaging than other solar radiation, the effect is increased when damage from UVA opens up skin cells to further damage from other radiation. Visible light accounts for 45 per cent of solar radiation hitting our skin, while UV accounts for just five per cent.
A sunscreen product has been developed that protects against UVA, UVB and visible light spectrums, using nanoparticles coated with a fine film of melanin to match skin colour, but is yet to be released.
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While our specialty dermatological skin cancer clinic can help if you have already fallen prey to the sun’s violence, if you are looking for proper skincare solutions to help protect your skin, talk to us. Avoid the skin cancer clinic and avoid wrinkles.
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