Abstract Ultraviolet (UV)-mediated DNA damage in various tissues has been well documented. However, research on the damaging effect of UV irradiation on the DNA of corneal epithelium is scarce, even though this is of interest because the cornea is directly exposed to damaging solar (UV) radiation. In this study, we developed a corneal epithelium Comet assay model to assess the background DNA damage (as strand breaks) in cells retrieved from different layers of the porcine corneal epithelium, and to investigate the effect of UV irradiation on DNA damage in corneal epithelial cells. Results show that the background DNA strand breaks decreased significantly (P < 0.001) toward deeper layers of the epithelium. Exposure to the same intensity (0.216 J/cm2) of UVA, UVB and UVC caused a significant (P < 0.001) increase in DNA strand breaks of deeper-layer cells: mean ± SD %DNA scores (10 gels per treatment, with 100 irradiated cells scored per gel) were 10.2% ± 1.4% for UVA, 27.4% ± 4.6% for UVB, and 14.7% ± 1.8% for UVC compared with 4.2% ± 0.5% for controls (ambient room light). This study has shown for the first time that the Comet assay for DNA strand breaks can be used successfully with corneal epithelial cells. This report will support future studies investigating environmental influences on corneal health and the assessment of possible protective strategies, and in applying DNA lesion-specific versions of the Comet assay in this corneal epithelial cell model.