Healing Colors and Sounds

The Colors of Healing

Could looking at spinach be soothing?

A surgeon in 1904 thought so.

Harry Mitchell Sherman, a physician at a San Francisco hospital, realized how easily tired his eyes became while doing surgery in a bright white environment. The white rooms and white cloth popular back then reflected the bright lights of the operating room. So he decided to swap out white surgical drapes for black ones, reducing the glare and making it easier to focus on the surgical procedure.

He later decided to upgrade the black cloth to a different color. And he chose “the green of the spinach leaf,” as he later wrote in an article published in the May 1914 issue of the California State Journal of Medicine. Sherman’s reasoning was simple. And it was based on something you might remember from elementary school…

Complementary colors sit opposite from each other on the wheel. And staring at a very red incision area for a long time and then blinking can result in you seeing a complementary (green) afterimage. But that distracting “floater” disappears into a green background. Sherman also painted most of the operating room green, which made it easier to notice any traces of blood for cleanup.

With the help of other architects and industry consultants who chimed in over the next few decades, Sherman’s favorite color really took off… Soothing greens and blues began to dominate hospitals… from the walls to the medical equipment to scrubs.

Plus, cool colors tend to have a relaxing effect – which is great for a doctor performing such a high-stress task and for antsy patients. For instance, some scientists have studied how looking at the color green can lower the heart rate.

And, of course, we associate greens and blues with nature…

Even just looking at photos of a lush green meadow, brilliant blue skies, or deep greenish-blue seas instantly makes us feel calmer, uplifts our moods, and instills in us a sense of awe.

But experiencing nature firsthand is best…

Scroll to Top