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July 1991

Polarized Light Examination and Photography of the Skin

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Arch Dermatol. 1991;127(7):1000-1005. doi:10.1001/archderm.1991.01680060074007

• Light reflected from skin has two components: regular reflectance, or "glare" arising from the surface, and light backscattered from within the tissue. The regular reflectance contains the visual cues related to surface texture, whereas the backscattered component contains the cues related to pigmentation, erythema, infiltrates, vessels, and other intracutaneous structures. Unlike the backscattered component, regular reflectance preserves the plane of polarization of polarized incident light. Thus, viewing skin through a linear polarizer, under linearly polarized illumination, separates the two components of tissue reflectance. Thirty patients were examined and photographed in this manner. When the planes of polarization are parallel, images with enhanced surface detail are obtained. When the planes are orthogonal, wrinkles and surface detail disappear, and an enhanced view of vasculature and pigmented lesions is obtained. Simple, clinically useful techniques are presented.

(Arch Dermatol. 1991;127:1000-1005)