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Jane McGregor


July 30, 2015: This chapter has been re-evaluated and remains up-to-date. No changes have been necessary.


Chapter reviewed June 2011—no substantial updates required.

Updated on 30 Nov 2011. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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date: 25 April 2017

Normal human skin is photosensitive in that it reddens following acute sunlight exposure and tans and thickens following chronic sunlight exposure. Skin cancer, particularly nonmelanoma skin cancer, is also a consequence of high cumulative sun exposure in genetically predisposed normal individuals (predominantly those with fair skin).

Outside the range of normal photosensitivity, there are a number of conditions in which patients exhibit diverse abnormal cutaneous reactions to sunlight. These are broadly described together as the photosensivity disorders, but in fact they comprise a very heterogeneous group of skin conditions.

Abnormal cutaneous photosensitive responses range from easy sunburn (as in drug phototoxicity and the DNA repair-deficient photodermatoses) and pain (erythropoietic protoporphyria), through to complex inflammatory responses such as urticaria, eczema, or epidermal necrosis induced by specific wavelengths of sunlight, the so-called idiopathic photodermatoses. The action spectra for the induction of most of these conditions are not established.

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