Shining light on skin pigmentation: the darker and the brighter side of effects of UV radiation

Photochem Photobiol. 2012 Sep-Oct;88(5):1075-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2012.01138.x. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


The term barrier function as applied to human skin often connotes the physical properties of this organ that provides protection from its surrounding environment. This term does not generally include skin pigmentation. However, skin pigmentation, which is the result of melanin produced in melanocytes residing in the basal layer of the skin and exported to the keratinocytes in the upper layers, serves equally important protective function. Indeed, changes in skin pigmentation are often the most readily recognized indicators of exposure of skin to damaging agents, especially to natural and artificial radiation in the environment. Several recent studies have shed new light on (1) the mechanisms involved in selective effects of subcomponents of UV radiation on human skin pigmentation and (2) the interactive influences between keratinocytes and melanocytes, acting as "epidermal melanin unit," that manifest as changes in skin pigmentation in response to exposure to various forms of radiation. This article provides a concise review of our current understanding of the effects of the nonionizing solar radiation, at cellular and molecular levels, on human skin pigmentation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cell Communication / radiation effects
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Humans
  • Keratinocytes / cytology
  • Keratinocytes / metabolism
  • Keratinocytes / radiation effects*
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Melanocytes / cytology
  • Melanocytes / metabolism
  • Melanocytes / radiation effects*
  • Melanosomes / physiology
  • Melanosomes / radiation effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Pigmentation / physiology
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Melanins
  • DNA