How Natural Beauty Lighting Makes You Look Your Best

Ep 62: Lighting Beauty- How Natural Light Makes You Look and Feel Beautiful

Have you ever thought about how the phrase  “to see someone in a harsh light” originated? Turns out, the physical phenomena of light perception quite literally can change how one feels about another. Yup, we are not talking about filters here! 

On the topic of natural vs artificial lighting, Dr. Teo Wan Lin discusses how lighting directly impacts perception, from photography, art to even in our social interactions. Nature’s knack for bringing out the best in everything she shines her light on is perhaps a lesson for mankind, Dr. Teo shares. As a follow-up to the previous episode on flawed beauty, this week’s discussion is all about the art of seeing perfectly, what may be imperfect. 

Hi guys, this is Dr. Teo Wan Lin from TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. Thank you for joining me once again on my podcast Dermatologists Talks: Science of Beauty. Your beauty podcast that presents an alternative view of the science behind beauty, perception and all things related to skincare and skin health. Today we’re going to talk about how natural light makes you look and feel beautiful. 

Natural beauty lighting

Beauty lighting is essentially the science behind how light effects can flatter one’s facial features. To set the record straight, I’m saying that natural light from the sun – and not filters or studio lighting – can make you look more beautiful. 

Before you jump the gun and wonder if you’ve heard me wrong. You may be wondering: aren’t dermatologists always saying the sun is bad for the skin? Let me set the stage for what we are going to discuss in this episode.

Sunlight and skin

Firstly, daylight from the sun is essential for our mental and psychological well-being. In fact, it forms the very basis of our organ functioning – a naturally occurring clock known as the circadian rhythm. Second, the harmful effects of the sun on our skin arise primarily from the UV spectrum of the sun’s rays. This is not the same as visible light, which is what causes us to be able to see. Finally, photographers mostly agree that natural light is the most flattering sort of lighting. As it provides effects that artificial lighting may not fully achieve.

In the last three podcasts, we have been focusing on the neuroaesthetic pathway, which explains how the field of cognitive neuroscience helps to determine the human perception of beauty. Today is going to be on the physical phenomena of light, and the biological basis of vision. It explains how our eyes actually see things as we do. First of all, on the subject of light, which many of us take for granted because we have functioning vision. We live in a world filled with light and color, simply because our eyes can see.

Natural light flatters

Natural light is traditionally regarded as the most flattering sort of lighting. This is because it is inherently rich in red light which contains a balance of all the colors in the rainbow. In fact, natural light is regarded as the gold standard for beauty lighting. Artificial lights, on the other hand, can sometimes be tricky. This is because they often do not emit enough red for the individual to look naturally radiant and healthy. Our eyes see by detecting light which is reflected off objects. The basic physics behind this phenomenon is that the light illuminating our face must contain a natural balance of colors. So then these can be reflected off our faces and be seen by people around us. 

So we have discussed the effect of light on perception, and the contrast between natural versus artificial lighting. Did you also know that light can put us in a better mood? When we are in a better mood, we tend to see things as more agreeable than disagreeable. Being disagreeable is surprisingly noteworthy as it actually one of the key markers for psychological well-being.

Impact of light on psychological well being 

We should emphasize the impact of light on our psychosocial wellbeing. There have been many studies on the human reaction to light. For example, our body clock follows a circadian rhythm. This is essentially a 24 hour clock that cues us to daytime and nighttime as times for work and rest respectively. Many psychiatric disorders such as seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression, ADHD and schizophrenia, have all been linked to disturbances in the circadian rhythm.

In fact, lack of sunlight during winter months leads to a mood disorder known as seasonal affective disorder. This is a form of depression associated with lack of sunlight. As a dermatologist, I feel that our field has certainly focused a lot of our research on the harmful effects of damaging UVB and UVA rays. However, what is truly essential is the spectrum of visible light which we take for granted. This is immensely important for our overall well-being and also in shaping the way we see the world around us.

Lighting in social contexts

In social contexts, lighting also plays a role. For example, candlelight dinners are deliberately lit in a way that is flattering for the individuals in that setting. Essentially, it is designed to make people look attractive. However, what we may not fully appreciate is that the light that we let into our daily lives that we are exposed to can also determine how we feel for the rest of the day. Simply put, when you’re in a good mood, everything around you seems more beautiful.

The brain-vision connection

The biological basis of this is fascinating. There is a third receptor in the eye which demonstrates that particular color of light essentially suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. It does this by sending a message to a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Morning light triggers this receptor to send a message that suppresses the production of melatonin in the brain, while the pituitary gland then moves and steps up the production of another hormone known as serotonin. Many of you know of serotonin, which we can find naturally in our bodies.

In fact, it is by psychiatrists often prescribe this to individuals who may have some form of mood disorder. It works to elevate our moods and also increase our motivation levels – a key marker of psychological wellbeing. That allows us to perform well throughout the day. If our body receives insufficient light during the day, it’s actually proven that we may not produce enough melatonin to support a good night’s sleep.

Color psychology- light and our emotions
Naturing beauty lighting Dr. Teo Wan Lin
Colour Your Face Beautiful.

The colours we use to describe our emotions can be an accurate non-verbal tool to determine our mood and mental state. Psychologists believe that our perception of the world is literally coloured by our emotions and expectations. Blue-yellow perception is consistently affected in depressed individuals, which is believed to be linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Human faces are perceived as “lighting up” with happiness or excitement. All the colours we visualise are part of the sun’s rays (white light) which also boosts our serotonin “happiness” levels. In darkness, colour ceases to exist. When serotonin is depleted, we become depressed and have difficulty perceiving colour.

The science behind a radiant face goes beyond having a good complexion. Such faces a perceived as emitting a form of “light” which elicits a positive emotion in the viewer— which is considered beautiful. ©Dr. Teo Wan Lin 2021
Teo WL. On thoughts, emotions, facial expressions, and aging. Int J Dermatol. 2021 Feb 9. doi: 10.1111/ijd.15443.

The natural behavior of all living beings, even plants, is to seek out areas of light as opposed to darkness. I think our ability to perceive is closely tied to light perception. Light perception itself has been proven to directly induce positive hormones in our body. These are required for our psychosocial well-being. Very often, when we find ourselves feeling psychologically well and calm, it’s much easier for us to perceive beauty in other people and our surroundings. Or at least experience positive emotions, which are part of an aesthetic experience, which as shared in the previous episodes, is essentially an emotion that we all crave and is sometimes described as beauty.

Lighting and mood

At the end of the day, being calm and agreeable are actually very positive emotions in terms of our health, as opposed to being disagreeable or fault finding. This essentially presents as a form of mental and hence, physical stress because of the connection our brain hormones have with the rest of our body. Finding imperfections or flaws in ourself or in other people, for example, can actually prevent as a form of stress to us. As we’ve shared, besides being closely tied to your mood, lighting itself can be cleverly used to enhance our physical appearance.  

How we perceive others in light

Have you ever thought about the origins of the phrase “to see someone in a harsh light” or “to see yourself in the best light”? As it turns out, the physical phenomena of light perception quite literally can change how one feels about another. For our social media savvy listeners here, we’re not talking about filters. Nature herself clearly knows how to light us up so we are always looking our best in daylight.  Light directly impacts perception, from photography, art to even in our day to day social interactions. 

At the end of the day, I hope that the take-home message for my listeners today can be firstly, seeing yourself in the best light possible, and others second as nature intended it. Also, not forgetting to follow her rhythm of daylight and nighttime as part of a healthy lifestyle choice. Going back to that, it turns out the origins behind the phrase “to see in a harsh light” is a story that is more science than semantics. It is an example of the many unique tales about beauty and perception that our beauty podcast exists to tell.

Flawed beauty

Think about it this way, the literal effect of placing an individual in unflattering lighting results in highlighting the individual’s flaws. Consequently, this affects the viewer’s emotions as well. In essence, if you want to be happy and beautiful, first decide to see yourself and everyone in the best light possible. The topic discussed today of the physical phenomena of natural light enhancing facial features bringing out the best and hiding imperfections, is perhaps a lesson for mankind in the art of seeing perfectly what may be truly imperfect.

This, together with the concept of flawed beauty of nature, present phenomena which will remain as fascinating as the neuroscientific pathways that influence our perception of beauty.

Find us on:

That is it for today’s podcast. Thank you for joining me on Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty. You may follow me on my Instagram @drteowanlin for the latest podcast updates. We have a new episode releasing every Sunday. We certainly hope you enjoy your journey into beauty with us.

Perceiving beauty.

Our eyes see differently in the dark.

Our perceptions are a product of brain ecology-a constantly evolving system rather than a fixed standard.

Differing perceptions of a single subject are a result of individual personality, shaped by personal experiences which include memories and subconscious influences.

Personality is the realm of the soul, evolving in our lifetime to make sense of the thoughts and emotions we experience.

Beauty, to me, is an emotion evoked- it directly connects the environment to our souls.

Can you learn to see differently?