Harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. Council on Scientific Affairs

JAMA. 1989 Jul 21;262(3):380-4.


Tanning for cosmetic purposes by sunbathing or by using artificial tanning devices is widespread. The hazards associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation are of concern to the medical profession. Depending on the amount and form of the radiation, as well as on the skin type of the individual exposed, ultraviolet radiation causes erythema, sunburn, photodamage (photoaging), photocarcinogenesis, damage to the eyes, alteration of the immune system of the skin, and chemical hypersensitivity. Skin cancers most commonly produced by ultraviolet radiation are basal and squamous cell carcinomas. There also is much circumstantial evidence that the increase in the incidence of cutaneous malignant melanoma during the past half century is related to increased sun exposure, but this has not been proved. Effective and cosmetically acceptable sunscreen preparations have been developed that can do much to prevent or reduce most harmful effects to ultraviolet radiation if they are applied properly and consistently. Other safety measures include (1) minimizing exposure to ultraviolet radiation, (2) being aware of reflective surfaces while in the sun, (3) wearing protective clothing, (4) avoiding use of artificial tanning devices, and (5) protecting infants and children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Erythema / etiology
  • Humans
  • Skin / immunology
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Pigmentation / radiation effects*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*


  • Sunscreening Agents