Synergistic damage by UVA radiation and pollutants

Toxicol Ind Health. 2009 May-Jun;25(4-5):219-24. doi: 10.1177/0748233709106067.


Not only is skin cancer by far the most common human cancer but also the incidence of skin cancer has been increasing at an alarming rate in recent decades. Fortunately, most people now realize that sun exposure causes unattractive photoaging and skin cancer, so they do apply sunscreens conscientiously. However, until recently, most sunscreens did not adequately protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation. Although UVA is indeed less erythrogenic and less carcinogenic than UVB, UVA directly causes photoaging and enhances UVB-induced skin cancer. Furthermore, recent research demonstrates that UVA combined with environmental pollutants (including cigarette smoke) significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. Similarly, previous research demonstrated another synergy between environmental pollutants and UV: When ozone exposure precedes UV exposure, there is enhancement of UV-induced depletion of protective vitamin E from the skin's stratum corneum. This article reviews experimental evidence that environmental pollutants (such as benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), a commonly used index of environmental pollution) are photosensitizers that generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) when exposed to UVA radiation. This in turn causes oxidative and genetic damage, leading to unattractive photodamage and carcinogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / toxicity
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Ozone / toxicity
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Aging*
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin E / metabolism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Vitamin E
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Ozone