Solar radiation is well known to damage human skin, for example by causing premature skin ageing (i.e. photoageing). We have recently learned that this damage does not result from ultraviolet (UV) radiation alone, but also from longer wavelengths, in particular near-infrared radiation (IRA radiation, 760–1,440 nm). IRA radiation accounts for more than one third of the solar energy that reaches human skin. While infrared radiation of longer wavelengths (IRB and IRC) does not penetrate deeply into the skin, more than 65% of the shorter wavelength (IRA) reaches the dermis. IRA radiation has been demonstrated to alter the collagen equilibrium of the dermal extracellular matrix in at least two ways: (a) by leading to an increased expression of the collagen-degrading enzyme matrix metalloproteinase 1, and (b) by decreasing the de novo synthesis of the collagen itself. IRA radiation exposure therefore induces similar biological effects to UV radiation, but the underlying mechanisms are substantially different, specifically, the cellular response to IRA irradiation involves the mitochondrial electron transport chain. Effective sun protection requires specific strategies to prevent IRA radiation-induced skin damage.

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