Suitably brief pulses of selectively absorbed optical radiation can cause selective damage to pigmented structures, cells, and organelles in vivo. Precise aiming is unnecessary in this unique form of radiation injury because inherent optical and thermal properties provide target selectivity. A simple, predictive model is presented. Selective damage to cutaneous microvessels and to melanosomes within melanocytes is shown after 577-nanometer (3 x 10(-7) second) and 351-nanometer (2 x 10(-8) second) pulses, respectively. Hemodynamic, histological, and ultrastructural responses are discussed.