Topical application of purified (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a polyphenolic antioxidant isolated from green tea, inhibited photocarcinogenesis in BALB/cAnNHsd mice with no visible toxicity. Mice were treated with 0, 10, or 50 mg of EGCG in 200 microliters of acetone three times weekly for three weeks before ultraviolet (UV) treatments began and throughout the experiment. UV radiation consisted of five 30-minute exposures per week to banks of six FS40 Westinghouse sunlamps for 25 weeks. In the photocarcinogenesis study, mice received a total dose of approximately 2.1 x 10(6) J/m2. Skin cancer incidence in UV-irradiated mice was 96% at 28 weeks after the first UV treatment; EGCG at 10 or 50 mg reduced this incidence to 62% and 29%, respectively. UV-induced immunosuppression, assessed by the inability of UVB-irradiated mice to reject a syngeneic antigenic tumor, was not influenced by topical EGCG. Oral administration of 0, 100, or 500 mg of pure EGCG per liter of drinking water (approximately 0, 0.56, or 2.8 mg/day, respectively) did not decrease UV-induced skin tumor incidence, rate of primary tumor growth, or inability to reject antigenic tumors. Thus induction of skin tumors by UV radiation was significantly reduced by topical, but not by oral, administration of purified EGCG through a mechanism distinct from inhibition of photoimmunosuppression.