The skin is constantly exposed to a variety of environmental threats, including solar electromagnetic radiation, microbes, airborne particulate matter, and chemicals. Acute exposure to these environmental factors results in the activation of different signaling pathways that orchestrate adaptive stress responses to maintain cell and tissue homeostasis. Chronic exposure of skin to these factors, however, may lead to the accumulation of damaged macromolecules and loss of cell and tissue integrity, which, over time, may facilitate aging processes and the development of aging-related malignancies. One transcription factor that is expressed in all cutaneous cells and activated by various environmental stressors, including dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and ultraviolet radiation, is the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). By regulating keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation, epidermal barrier function, melanogenesis, and immunity, a certain degree of AHR activity is critical to maintain skin integrity and to adapt to acute stress situations. In contrast, a chronic activation of cutaneous AHR signaling critically contributes to premature aging and the development of neoplasms by affecting metabolism, extracellular matrix remodeling, inflammation, pigmentation, DNA repair, and apoptosis. This article provides an overview of the detrimental effects associated with sustained AHR activity in chronically stressed skin and pinpoints AHR as a promising target for chemoprevention.
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