Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation covers the spectrum of wavelengths from 100 to 400 nm. The potency and biological activity for a variety of endpoints differ by wavelength. For monitoring and communication purposes, different UV action spectra have been developed. These spectra use different weighting functions. The action spectrum for erythemal dose is the most widely used one. This erythemal dose per time or dose-rate has been further simplified into a “UV index”. Following this example, in our review we use the term “index” or (plural) “indices” in a more general description for all simplified single-value measures for any biologically effective UV dose, e.g., for human non-melanoma skin cancer and for previtamin D production rate. Ongoing discussion about the existence of an increased melanoma risk due to UV-A exposure underscores the uncertainties inherent in current weighting functions. Thus, we performed an online literature search to review the data basis for these indices, to understand their relevance for an individual, and to assess the applicability of the indices for a range of exposure scenarios. Even for natural (solar) UV, the spectral composition varies spatially and temporally. Artificial UV sources and personal protection introduce further variation to the spectral composition. Many biological effects are proposed for UV radiation. Only few endpoints have been studied sufficiently to estimate a reliable index. Weighting functions for chronic effects and most importantly for cancer endpoints have been developed in animal models, and often for proxy endpoints only. Epidemiological studies on biological effects of UV radiation should not only depend on single-value weighted UV dose estimates (indexes) but should strive for a more detailed description of the individual exposure. A better understanding of the adverse and beneficial effects of UV radiation by wavelength would also improve medical counseling and health communication regarding individual health-supportive behavior.
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