You’re glowing right now

Did you know that you’re a vampire that sparkles? Well, maybe not the vampire part but you do glow throughout the day. Yep, you read that right! You’re emitting faint visible light right now but its 1000 times too dim for your eyes to pick up.

New research led by Japanese scientists at the Tohoku institute of technology found that “the human body literally glimmers” and caught this odd phenomenon for the first time ever using an ultra-sensitive camera. Volunteers were placed naked in front of the camera, in complete darkness, for 20 minutes every 3 hours for 3 days straight (excluding sleep, of course).

Image from: PLOS ONE https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0006256

Interestingly, the researchers found that the glow was a rhythmic one. It was lowest at around 10 am and peaked in the late afternoon, around 4 pm, with the brightest spots appearing around the mouth and cheeks. Kobayashi, the lead scientist, believes the glow is linked to our internal body clock and managed to break the cycle by disrupting volunteers’ sleeping patterns. This stifled their bodily shimmer!

Image from: National Geographic https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2009/07/20/photographing-the-glow-of-the-human-body/

So, what’s going on here? Despite how deceiving the images look, this glow is not linked to infrared radiation emitted by our body heat. Researchers found, using thermal imaging, that the hottest body parts did not correspond to the brightest body parts and photon (light particle) emission was not influenced by temperature.

Infrared image of the subject showing heat emissions

Image from: PLOS ONE https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0006256

Rather, Kobayashi believes that this glow is actually a cool side effect of our metabolism and how our metabolic rhythms fluctuate throughout the day. Free radicals – atoms with unpaired electrons – are a natural by-product of cellular metabolism. Free radicals are highly reactive, and when they bump into free-floating lipids and proteins in our cells, it sets off a sequence of energetic chemical reactions. Our glow is produced when resulting “excited” molecules react with chemicals called fluorophores – naturally occurring molecules such as aromatic amino acids and flavins, that emit photons when they shift from an “excited state” to a “low-energy state”.

This makes sense because in the late afternoon when we’re burning the most energy, we’re shining the brightest! The team suggests that the face glows the brightest because it’s exposed to the most sunlight, which increases melanin – a pigment that gives colour to our skin. Melanin has fluorescent components that could trigger more illuminating reactions than areas with low melanin.

More research, with a larger cohort, is needed to study if this distribution of light and the way it behaves can be applied to all people, genders and ethnicities.

The team hopes that this new discovery might help identify medical conditions that cause changes in metabolism, by scanning a person’s body to analyse light levels. “If you can see the glimmer from the body’s surface, you could see the whole body condition,” Kobayashi said to the team at Live Science.

So, ditch that skincare routine! You’re shining from within! Literally!

Check out the published article here!

Reference: Kobayashi, M., Kikuchi, D., & Okamura, H. (2009). Imaging of Ultraweak Spontaneous Photon Emission from Human Body Displaying Diurnal Rhythm PLoS ONE, 4 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006256


6 Responses to “You’re glowing right now”

  1. Rubi says:

    I’m excited for the future prospects of this!

  2. Rubi says:

    I believe that they can! 😉

  3. sgiarrusso says:

    Interesting! Maybe certain animals can see us glowing !!!?

  4. isherburn says:

    Love this, Rubi! It was great that you stepped us through the researchers’ hypotheses and what research needs to be done in future to confirm their finding. Would be cool to see if this might help diagnose mitochondrial diseases too!

  5. Holly Roysmith says:

    That is so cool!! I’ve always thought I sparkled personally, bit of a shimmer in the light, but to know that we actually do is ‘totally wicked!!’ (from the incredibles). I wouldn’t have guessed it would be metabolism doing it but that makes sense. Very easy read and I was instantly hooked by the title!

  6. Danielle Ariti says:

    Fantastic topic!!
    This is one of the coolest things I have heard! I cannot believe that I shimmer hahaha