It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Now thanks to a group of researchers from the University of Colorado a UV photograph could save lives. During their study of 600 12-year-old boys and girls, the researchers used ultraviolet photography to test their “assumption that actual signs of susceptibility to melanoma cancer–things like freckles, red hair, blue eyes, and or pale skin–would point to skin markings of a particular severity seen via UV photography.”

You can find these finding in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. As predicted, they discovered that those with the signs of susceptibility were also those with the most visible spots in the UV photographs.

How did they do it?

The human eye can see a range of light from 400-750 nanometers, which is the spectrum used in normal photography. The photos using UV light covers a range from about 1 to 400 nanometers. Even though the photos use UV light as the flash, according to dermatologist and study co-author Robert Dellavalle, it is only equivalent to being exposed to one second of sunlight. Harmless, but no mistake that it reveals the ugly and eye-opening sun damage that UVA and UVB rays do to our un-protected skin.

Dellavalle also says the UV photos have revealed skin damage in children as young as 2!

This technology has the potential to make a big impact for melanoma awareness, but the cost was calculated to be “upward of $20,000.” The researchers believe (and I agree) that the “best intervention may involve photographing students in school before they are of the age to turn to tanning beds or reject hats and sunblock.”

Those of us with darker skin tones or fewer freckles should remember that there is more than meets the eye. Just because we don’t burn as easily–doesn’t mean we are immune to skin damage or skin cancer.