Aeolian samples from deserts in northern China were studied using the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) of quartz and potassium (K) feldspar separates. K-feldspar has shown advantages over quartz for dating samples younger than 100 years, due to its more homogeneous equivalent dose (De) values, higher internal dose rate and higher luminescence sensitivity to dose. Without additional measurements, the luminescence characteristics of quartz obtained in De determination procedures can be used to reveal the source material and/or quartz thermal history for the deserts in northern China. The results indicated that the duration of paleosol formation in desert areas reflects regional paleoenvironments. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.