Childhood exposure to ultraviolet radiation and harmful skin effects: epidemiological evidence

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2011 Dec;107(3):349-55. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2011.08.010. Epub 2011 Sep 3.


We review the general amount and patterns of exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation that children and teenagers experience and the spectrum of UV-related skin damage that can occur as a result. Data about the amount of solar UV received by children and teenagers are relatively few but suggest that around 40-50% of total UV to age 60 occurs before age 20. Among white children, those with the palest complexions suffer the most damage. Comparisons of prevalence and incidence of outcomes in children and teenagers sharing common ancestry, but living at different latitudes, show that prevalence rates of photoaging and melanocytic naevi are higher in Australian compared with British children, and similarly for melanoma. Genetic risk for the majority of the melanomas in teens is a function of genes controlling naevus propensity and pigmentation in the skin. High numbers of naevi and freckles, red hair, blue eyes, inability to tan, as well as a family history are the primary determinants of melanoma among adolescents. Beyond the signs of skin damage seen in children are the latent effects observed later in adulthood. Childhood is believed to be a susceptible window for long-term harmful effects of UV, as evidenced by clear differences in skin cancer risk between child and adult migrants from high to low latitudes. Effective UV radiation protection from childhood is necessary to control both immediate and long-term harmful effects on children's skin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Radiation Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Radiation Injuries / genetics
  • Radiation Injuries / metabolism
  • Radiation Injuries / pathology
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*