The photoprotective potential of the dietary antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene, and the rosemary polyphenol, carnosic acid, was tested in human dermal fibroblasts exposed to ultraviolet-A (UVA) light. The carotenoids were prepared in special nanoparticle formulations together with vitamin C and/or vitamin E. Nanoparticle formulations, in contrast to dimethylsulphoxide, stablized lycopene in the cell culture medium and allowed efficient cellular uptake. The presence of vitamin E in the formulation further increased the stability and cellular uptake of lycopene. UVA irradiation of the human skin fibroblasts led to a 10-15-fold rise in metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1) mRNA. This rise was suppressed in the presence of low microM concentrations of vitamin E, vitamin C, or carnosic acid but not with beta-carotene or lycopene. Indeed, in the presence of 0.5-1.0 microM beta-carotene or lycopene, the UVA-induced MMP-1 mRNA was further increased by 1.5-2-fold. This increase was totally suppressed when vitamin E was included in the nanoparticle formulation. Heme-oxygenase 1 (HO-1) mRNA expression was strongly induced by UVA irradiation but none of the antioxidants inhibited this effect at the concentrations used in this study. Indeed, beta-carotene or lycopene (0.5-1.0 microM) led to a further 1.5-fold rise in the UVA-induced HO-1 mRNA levels. In conclusion, vitamin C, vitamin E, and carnosic acid showed photoprotective potential. Lycopene and beta-carotene did not protect on their own but in the presence of vitamin E, their stability in culture was improved and the rise in MMP-1 mRNA expression was suppressed, suggesting a requirement for antioxidant protection of the carotenoids against formation of oxidative derivatives that can influence the cellular and molecular responses.