Highly pigmented, dark skin is more resistant to the harmful effects of solar ultraviolet radiation than light-colored human skin. The extent to which tanning protects skin from harmful effects including induction of skin cancer is not known, however. We have investigated whether the skin pigment, melanin, sensitizes or protects isolated DNA or nuclear DNA in melanoma cells from the induction of the premutagenic oxidative DNA base damage, 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine, by ultraviolet A irradiation. Synthetic eumelanin sensitized isolated DNA to induction of the oxidative DNA base damage by ultraviolet A, but it also induced the oxidative DNA base damage in the dark. To study the role of natural melanin in mammalian melanoma cells in the induction of oxidative DNA base damage, melanin synthesis was modulated 5-7-fold in the human melanoma cells GLL19 and IGR1 (which contain both pheomelanin and eumelanin) as well as in the mouse melanoma cells B16 (which contain mainly eumelanin). Increased melanin synthesis clearly did not protect against ultraviolet A-induced oxidative DNA base damage in cells. On the contrary, the human melanoma cells with high melanin content accumulated two times more 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine after ultraviolet A irradiation than cells with low melanin content. Furthermore, preirradiation of the human melanoma cells, IGR1, with ultraviolet A 4 h before a second ultraviolet A exposure produced an altered amount of induced 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine dependent on the melanin content of the cells. We conclude that stimulation of melanin synthesis, but probably not melanin itself, increases the susceptibility of human melanoma cells to induction of premutagenic oxidative DNA base damage by ultraviolet A irradiation.