Imaging superficial tissues with polarized light

Steven L. Jacques, Jessica R. Roman, Ken Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

420 Scopus citations


Objective: Polarized light can be used to obtain images of superficial tissue layers such as skin, and some example images are presented. This study presents a study of the transition of linearly polarized light into randomly polarized light during light propagation through tissues. Study Design/Materials and Methods: The transition of polarization was studied in polystyrene microsphere solutions, in chicken muscle (breast) and liver, and in porcine muscle and skin. The transition is discussed in terms of a diffusion process characterized by an angular diffusivity (radians2/mean free path) for the change in angular orientation of linearly polarized light per unit optical path traveled by the light. Results: Microsphere diffusivity increased from 0.031 to 0.800 for diameters decreasing from 6.04 μm to 0.306 μm, respectively. Tissue diffusivity varied from a very low value (0.0004) for chicken liver to an intermediate value (0.055) for chicken and porcine muscle to a very high value (0.78) for pig skin. Conclusion: The results are consistent with the hypothesis that birefringent tissues randomize linearly polarized light more rapidly than nonbirefringent tissues. The results suggest that polarized light imaging of skin yields images based only on photons backscattered from the superficial epidermal and initial papillary dermis because the birefringent dermal collagen rapidly randomizes polarized light. This anatomic region of the skin is where cancer commonly arises. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-129
Number of pages11
JournalLasers in Surgery and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Imaging
  • Liver
  • Muscle
  • Polarized light
  • Polystyrene microspheres
  • Tissue optical properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Dermatology


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