What Skin Really Looks Like Under UV Light

August 26, 2014
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In spite of a lot of advice and constant media and online warnings, I’m not a regular sunscreen user. Sure, I’ll put some on the first beach day of the summer, to avoid uncomfortable sunburns that night; but watching tons of people obsess about sunscreen and complaining about spots, aging and possible skin cancer usually makes me roll my eyes. I’m not sure why I ignore this so blatantly, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a “manly” thing or if it all just sounds a bit hypochondriac to me, but I’ve remained a non-believer, or at the very least someone who takes the effects of everyday sun fairly lightly.

This is why it was rather alarming — yet kind of cool — when I saw a video titled How the Sun Sees You, by photographer Thomas Leveritt.

Leveritt took the streets of Brooklyn, New York, armed with a special camera and monitor setup, allowing him to capture an image in ultraviolet light and relay it back to a viewer/subject in real time.


While a lot of the damage the sun can do goes unnoticed by the human eye in normal conditions, the UV lighting lets people see changes that are not yet visible. The images were quite surprising — especially for those with a lot of sun marks they weren’t aware of. Some of the people in the video were shocked to see their otherwise normal looking faces covered in freckles, spots and odd scars they could have never noticed before.

After the initial alarmed reactions settled in a little bit, Leveritt gave the participants sunscreen and asked them to apply it in their faces. While most of these creams look clear and/or transparent when applied, the UV light makes it look black, highlighting its protection against the damage caused by UV rays. Glasses also looked completely black. Apparently any covering tool that gets heavily dark under the ultraviolet light means it’s protecting the skin from all that UV harm. The point of sunscreen is to absorb the UV rays, in order for them not to reach the skin. Since none of it reflects the rays, it ends up looking black, which in addition to prove its effectiveness it also happens to look pretty damn cool on the video.

In addition to being entertaining and beautifully photographed, the film is quite the wake-up call in terms of sunscreen use. How long will this last on my self-neglecting to-do list is anyone’s guess, but at the very least for the rest of the summer I’m definitely going to be paying more attention to the sun’s effects on my skin. Thanks, Tom!

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