Toxic effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004 Mar 15;195(3):298-308. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2003.08.019.


Ultraviolet (UV) irradiation present in sunlight is an environmental human carcinogen. The toxic effects of UV from natural sunlight and therapeutic artificial lamps are a major concern for human health. The major acute effects of UV irradiation on normal human skin comprise sunburn inflammation (erythema), tanning, and local or systemic immunosuppression. At the molecular level, UV irradiation causes DNA damage such as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and (6-4) photoproducts, which are usually repaired by nucleotide excision repair (NER). Chronic exposure to UV irradiation leads to photoaging, immunosuppression, and ultimately photocarcinogenesis. Photocarcinogenesis involves the accumulation of genetic changes, as well as immune system modulation, and ultimately leads to the development of skin cancers. In the clinic, artificial lamps emitting UVB (280-320 nm) and UVA (320-400 nm) radiation in combination with chemical drugs are used in the therapy of many skin diseases including psoriasis and vitiligo. Although such therapy is beneficial, it is accompanied with undesirable side effects. Thus, UV radiation is like two sides of the same coin--on one side, it has detrimental effects, and on the other side, it has beneficial effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Damage
  • Humans
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / adverse effects