The premutagenic oxidative DNA base damage, 7,8-dihydro-8-oxoguanine, is induced in human skin fibroblasts by monochromatic radiation ranging from a UVB wavelength (312 nm) up to wavelengths in the near visible (434 nm). The oxidative damage is not generated by absorption of radiation in DNA but rather by activation of photosensitizers generating genotoxic singlet oxygen species. The spectrum for the yield of the oxidative damage in confluent, non-growing, primary skin fibroblasts shows that it is UVA (above 334 nm) and near visible radiations which cause almost all of this guanine oxidation by natural sunlight in the fibroblast model. We estimate that the total amount of oxidation of guanine induced by sunlight in fibroblasts in the epidermis of the skin equals or exceeds the amount of the major type of direct DNA damage, cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers. In rapidly dividing lymphoblastoid cells, no oxidative guanine damage was induced. However, in melanoma cells almost as much damage as in non-growing fibroblasts (1.1 per 10(4) guanine bases after 1200 kJ/m2 UVA) was found. We conclude that oxidative DNA base damage can probably contribute to the induction of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer by sunlight.