The combination of salt water baths and solar radiation is known as an effective treatment for patients with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. To determine whether increased susceptibility to UVB radiation may contribute to this therapeutic effect we have studied the effect of bathing the skin in salt water prior to UVB irradiation. Twelve subjects were phototested on the volar aspects of their forearms with increasing doses of UVB radiation. One forearm was exposed to 5% salt water prior to irradiation. The minimal erythema dose (MED) was determined and the erythema index and skin pigmentation were assessed by photometric measurement. The combination of salt water bath and irradiation yielded a significant decrease of the MED when compared to UVB alone (median 90 mJ/cm2 vs 130 mJ/cm2, P < 0.01). Analysis of variance showed a significant influence of salt water bath on erythema (P < 0.05) but not on skin pigmentation. Within the MED test area the erythema index of the salt water exposed forearms was elevated significantly (P < 0.05) while skin pigmentation was not affected. Thus, bathing the skin in salt water leads to a decreased threshold level for the elicitation of UVB-induced erythema and a selective increase of the erythemal response. This sensitization to the effects of shortwave UVB radiation may increase immunosuppressive effects of UVB radiation and may lead to an increased efficacy of UVB phototherapy. However, there is also an increased sunburn risk when salt water baths are followed by exposure to UV radiation.