Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is an essential risk factor for the development of premalignant skin lesions as well as of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. UVR exerts many effects on the skin, including tanning, carcinogenesis, immunomodulation, and production of vitamin D. Vitamin D (vit D) is important in the maintenance of healthy bones as well as other purported beneficial effects, amongst which is the potential for reducing risk of malignancy—though oral supplementation is fully capable of maintaining systemic levels. The known medical harm from UV exposure relates primarily to cancer of the skin—the most common organ in man to be affected by cancer. In this review, we summarize the knowledge about the ultraviolet (UV) response in regards to inflammation, immunosuppression, carcinogenesis and the tanning response. We also discuss vit D and UV, as well as public health implications of tanning behavior and commercial interests related to the promotion of UV exposure. As the most ubiquitous human carcinogen, UVR exposure represents both a challenge and enormous opportunity in the realm of skin cancer prevention.