This article reviews many of the complex events that occur after cutaneous ultraviolet (UV) exposure. The inflammatory changes of acute exposure of the skin include erythema (sunburn), the production of inflammatory mediators, alteration of vascular responses and an inflammatory cell infiltrate. Damage to proteins and DNA accumulates within skin cells and characteristic morphological changes occur in keratinocytes and other skin cells. When a cell becomes damaged irreparably by UV exposure, cell death follows via apoptotic mechanisms. Alterations in cutaneous and systemic immunity occur as a result of the UV-induced inflammation and damage, including changes in the production of cytokines by keratinocytes and other skin-associated cells, alteration of adhesion molecule expression and the loss of APC function within the skin. These changes lead to the generation of suppressor T cells, the induction of antigen-specific immunosuppression and a lowering of cell-mediated immunity. These events impair the immune system's capacity to reject highly antigenic skin cancers. This review gives an overview of the acute inflammatory and immunological events associated with cutaneous UV exposure, which are important to consider before dealing with the complex interactions that occur with chronic UV exposure, leading to photocarcinogenesis.