The effects of acute or repeated suberythemal solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure on human skin have been insufficiently investigated. Such exposure almost certainly has important long-term consequences that include skin ageing and skin cancer. This review summarizes the published data on the biological effects of suberythemal exposure using a wide range of clinical, cellular and molecular endpoints, some of which may be considered as biomarkers for skin cancer and photoageing. We also include some recent unpublished results from our laboratories. The effects of UVA (320-400 nm), UVB (290-320 nm) and total solar UVR (290-400 nm) are compared. We demonstrate that avoiding sunburn does not prevent many indicators of cutaneous biological damage and that use of low sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen can inhibit much of the damages induced by suberythemal exposure to UVR. However, even when applied correctly, sunscreen use will result in suberythemal exposure. The degree and spectral quality of such exposure will depend on the SPF and absorption spectrum of the sunscreen, but nonetheless it may contribute to cumulative photodamage. This review may help to determine the level of photoprotection required in sunscreens and daily use products, as well as the ideal ratio of UVB/UVA protection, to improve long-term photoprotection outcomes.
© 2010 The Authors. BJD © 2010 British Association of Dermatologists.