Life evolved under the sun, which powers 99% (not all!) of life on earth. Aside from eating photosynthetic plants and other animals big and small which eat them too, our long-term relationship with the sun is wonderfully complex, and somehow balanced in ways we barely understand. For example, our vision is best at exactly the maximum wavelengths emitted by the sun, and we also have non-imaging, upward-looking, blue-light retinal cells that subconsciously tell us to sleep when the sky is no longer blue. Before distant migration and tropical vacationing, we hairless, long-lived apes evolved an unusual skin pigmentation system that adjusts itself to let enough sunlight in, but not too much.
Rox Anderson is a dermatologist and suggests you wear a decent sunscreen if you are headed to the beach, lest you suffer a painful sunburn while increasing your risk of skin cancer (and looking old). But modest sun exposure improves your bone health and even your blood pressure, to the extent that lack of sufficient sunlight measurably reduces your lifespan. Which are the “good” wavelengths for that? It turns out the mitochondria that power our cells possess an ancient photoreceptor system that only recently is being exploited in modern medicine – for better wound healing, brain function, athletic performance, and even to grow hair. Many of the lasers for skin treatment developed at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine lab, where the staff recognized how pulses of light could selectively affect microscopic targets such as blood vessels, hair follicles, pigment cells, tattoos, and the oil glands that cause acne. With poetic irony, light can even make you look younger again!
Dr. Rox Anderson graduated from MIT, and then received his MD degree magna cum laude from the joint MIT-Harvard medical program, Health Sciences and Technology. After completing his dermatology residency and an NIH research fellowship at Harvard, he joined the faculty where he is now Harvard Medical School Professor in dermatology, Director of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine; and adjunct Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. Dr. Anderson conceived and developed many of the non-scarring laser treatments now widely used in medical care. These include treatments for birthmarks, microvascular and pigmented lesions, tattoo and permanent hair removal. He has also contributed to treatment for vocal cords, kidney stones, glaucoma, heart disease, photodynamic therapy for cancer and acne, and optical diagnostics. Dr. Anderson has been awarded over 60 national and international patents and has co-authored over 250 scientific books and papers.