Medical Definition of UV radiation

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

UV radiation: Ultraviolet radiation. Invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun, can burn the skin, and cause skin cancer. UV radiation is made up of three types of rays -- ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC).

UVC is the most dangerous type of ultraviolet light but cannot penetrate earth's protective ozone layer. Therefore, it poses no threat to human, animal or plant life on earth. UVA and UVB, on the other hand, do penetrate the ozone layer in attenuated form and reach the surface of the planet. UVA is weaker than UVB but passes further into the skin than UVB. It is now generally accepted that both UVA and UVB cause skin cancer, including melanoma. For this reason, sunscreens are recommended that block both kinds of radiation -- UVA and UVB.

In addition to natural light from the sun, artificial light from tanning lamps contains UVA and UVB. Electric arc lamps can also generate ultraviolet light to heat furnaces for melting and to enable motion-picture projectors to show movies.

Though ultraviolet light can damage health, it can also maintain or improve health. When ultraviolet light strikes human skin, it triggers the production of vitamin D, which promotes the growth of bones and teeth.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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