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The impact of skin colour on human photobiological responses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-618
Number of pages12
JournalPigment cell & melanoma research
Issue number6
Early online date25 Jul 2016
Accepted/In press11 Jul 2016
E-pub ahead of print25 Jul 2016
Published1 Nov 2016


King's Authors


Terrestrial solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exerts both beneficial and adverse effects on human skin. Epidemiological studies show a lower incidence of skin cancer in people with pigmented skins compared to fair skins. This is attributed to photoprotection by epidermal melanin, as is the poorer vitamin D status of those with darker skins. We summarize a wide range of photobiological responses across different skin colours including DNA damage and immunosuppression. Some studies show the generally modest photoprotective properties of melanin, but others show little or no effect. DNA photodamage initiates non-melanoma skin cancer and is reduced by a factor of about 3 in pigmented skin compared with white skin. This suggests that if such a modest reduction in DNA damage can result in the significantly lower skin cancer incidence in black skin, the use of sunscreen protection might be extremely beneficial for susceptible population. Many contradictory results may be explained by protocol differences, including differences in UVR spectra and exposure protocols. We recommend that skin type comparisons be done with solar-simulated radiation and standard erythema doses or physical doses (J/m2) rather than those based solely on clinical endpoints such as minimal erythema dose (MED).

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