How human DNA repair proteins survey the genome for UV-induced photoproducts remains a poorly understood aspect of the initial damage recognition step in nucleotide excision repair (NER). To understand this process, we performed single-molecule experiments, which revealed that the human UV-damaged DNA-binding protein (UV-DDB) performs a 3D search mechanism and displays a remarkable heterogeneity in the kinetics of damage recognition. Our results indicate that UV-DDB examines sites on DNA in discrete steps before forming long-lived, nonmotile UV-DDB dimers (DDB1-DDB2)2 at sites of damage. Analysis of the rates of dissociation for the transient binding molecules on both undamaged and damaged DNA show multiple dwell times over three orders of magnitude: 0.3–0.8, 8.1, and 113–126 s. These intermediate states are believed to represent discrete UV-DDB conformers on the trajectory to stable damage detection. DNA damage promoted the formation of highly stable dimers lasting for at least 15 min. The xeroderma pigmentosum group E (XP-E) causing K244E mutant of DDB2 found in patient XP82TO, supported UV-DDB dimerization but was found to slide on DNA and failed to stably engage lesions. These findings provide molecular insight into the loss of damage discrimination observed in this XP-E patient. This study proposes that UV-DDB recognizes lesions via multiple kinetic intermediates, through a conformational proofreading mechanism.