Research Techniques Made Simple: Cutaneous Colorimetry: A Reliable Technique for Objective Skin Color Measurement

Bao Chau K. Ly, Ethan B. Dyer, Jessica L. Feig, Anna L. Chien, Sandra Del Bino

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Skin color evaluation contributes to assessment of an individual's cutaneous phenotype. Skin color changes provide important clues to disease progression or treatment response. Skin color is also a predictor of skin cancer risk. Melanin pigment, blood flow, skin thickness, and photoaging contribute to skin color. Melanin, hemoglobin, bilirubin, and carotene are the primary chromophores of skin color. Their concentrations vary depending on the individual's phenotype, anatomic location, external insults of chemical irritants and UVR, and physiological changes. The evaluation and perception of skin color are often subjective. Objective quantification of skin color can be achieved with colorimetric devices such as tristimulus colorimeters. These devices compute the intensity of light reflected from skin and correlate with pigmentation and erythema. Cutaneous color and color changes can be quantified under color organization systems, such as the CIELAB color space, which is standardized by the Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage (CIE). The CIELAB expresses color's lightness, red/green intensity, and yellow/blue intensity, as L*, a*, and b* values, respectively. Additionally, skin color's full spectral characteristics and cutaneous physiology can be measured with spectrophotometers. This article outlines basic principles of the CIELAB color system and how to optimally use colorimetric devices as a skin research tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-12.e1
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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