Carotenoids are useful oral sun protectants, and supplementation with high doses of beta-carotene protects against UV-induced erythema formation. We compared the erythema-protective effect of beta-carotene (24 mg/d from an algal source) to that of 24 mg/d of a carotenoid mix consisting of the three main dietary carotenoids, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene (8 mg/d each). In a placebo-controlled, parallel study design, volunteers with skin type II (n = 12 in each group) received beta-carotene, the carotenoid mix or placebo for 12 wk. Carotenoid levels in serum and skin (palm of the hand), as well as erythema intensity before and 24 h after irradiation with a solar light simulator were measured at baseline and after 6 and 12 wk of treatment. Serum beta-carotene concentration increased three- to fourfold (P < 0.001) in the beta-carotene group, whereas in the mixed carotenoid group, the serum concentration of each of the three carotenoids increased one- to threefold (P < 0.001). No changes occurred in the control group. The intake of either beta-carotene or a mixture of carotenoids similarly increased total carotenoids in skin from wk 0 to wk 12. No changes in total carotenoids in skin occurred in the control group. The intensity of erythema 24 h after irradiation was diminished in both groups that received carotenoids and was significantly lower than baseline after 12 wk of supplementation. Long-term supplementation for 12 wk with 24 mg/d of a carotenoid mix supplying similar amounts of beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene ameliorates UV-induced erythema in humans; the effect is comparable to daily treatment with 24 mg of beta-carotene alone.