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All sediments and soils contain trace amounts of radioactive isotopes of elements such as potassium, uranium, thorium, and rubidium.

These slowly decay over time and the ionizing radiation they produce is absorbed by mineral grains in the sediments such as quartz and potassium feldspar.

In diagnostic imaging the increased sensitivity of the OSL dosimeter makes it ideal for monitoring employees working in low-radiation environments and for pregnant workers.

To carry out OSL dating, mineral grains have to be extracted from the sample.

The problem with this technique is that the operator does not know the individual figures that are being averaged, and so if there are partially prebleached grains in the sample it can give an exaggerated age .

"Optical dating" typically refers to OSL and IRSL, but not TL.

Most commonly these are so-called coarse grains of 100-200 μm or fine grains of 4-11 μm. The difference between radiocarbon dating and OSL is that the former is used to date organic materials, while the latter is used to date minerals.

Events that can be dated using OSL are, for example, the mineral's last exposure to sunlight; Mungo Man, Australia's oldest human find, was dated in this manner.

The OSL dosimeter provides a new degree of sensitivity by giving an accurate reading as low as 1 mrem for x-ray and gamma ray photons with energies ranging from 5 ke V to greater than 40 Me V.

The OSL dosimeter's maximum equivalent dose measurement for x-ray and gamma ray photons is 1000 rem.

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It is also used for dating the deposition of geological sediments after they have been transported by air (aeolian sediments) or rivers (fluvial sediments).

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