CCNY physicists patent optical method to change skin-color perception

In August 2013, three City College of New York (CCNY; New York, NY) physicists affiliated with the Institute for Ultrafast Spectroscopy and Lasers (IUSL) were awarded a patent for a method for changing perception of skin tone by applying quantum and optical principles to cosmetic preparations.

The method's main application will be to change the appearance of facial color from red, blue, or yellow to white, according to the patent abstract. Often, these appearances result from medical conditions. For example, cyanosis, deprivation of oxygen to tissue near the skin, can cause skin to appear blue. Also, many people develop rosacea, which causes skin to redden, as they age.

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Yellow skin appears that color because it scatters the yellow portion of the light spectrum
Yellow skin appears that color because it scatters the yellow portion of the light spectrum.

“If you understand the physical properties of light, you can use those properties to change color perception. We all know red, green, and blue give white,” says Robert R. Alfano, CUNY distinguished professor of science and engineering and IUSL director, who led the work. For example, yellowish skin could appear white if covered with a preparation enabling it to scatter blue light as well as yellow light.

“By selecting the right size and materials of particles compounded in cosmetic preparations and applying the preparations to the skin, the scattering and/or emission from micro- and nanoparticles can provide a complimentary color or in proximity to that complementary color of the skin color,” the abstract states. “The mixture of the color provided by the particles and the reflect color from the skin will whiten the skin or make inconspicuous the hyperchromic (more light-absorbing) portion of the skin.”

When a cosmetics preparation containing nano-/micro particles that scatter the blue portion of the spectrum is applied to the skin, it appears whiter because the scattered yellow and blue light mix
When a cosmetics preparation containing nano-/micro particles that scatter the blue portion of the spectrum is applied to the skin, it appears whiter because the scattered yellow and blue light mix.

The method can be applied to other products in which particles are applied to a surface or blended into a material, including paint and colored glass.

Research associate Xiaohui Ni played a key role in calculating the optical effects on nanometer-size particles. The patent, "Changing Skin-Color Perception Using Quantum and Optical Principles in Cosmetic Preparations," US 8,518,445 B2, was awarded on August 27, 2013.

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