Topical application of vitamin E has been shown to decrease the incidence of ultraviolet (UV)-induced skin cancer in mice. Vitamin E provides protection against UV-induced skin photodamage through a combination of antioxidant and UV absorptive properties. Topical application of alpha-tocopherol on mouse skin inhibits the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine photoproducts. However, topically applied alpha-tocopherol is rapidly depleted by UVB radiation in a dose-dependent manner. The photooxidative fate of the alpha-tocopherol depends on the local environment of the vitamin E. alpha-Tocopherol quinone and alpha-tocopherol quinone epoxides are principal photoproducts of vitamin E that has penetrated into the epidermal layer of the skin, whereas tocopherol dimers and trimers are formed from alpha-tocopherol in a bulk phase at the skin surface. Dimer and trimer products may participate in prevention of UV-induced photodamage.