Temperature change is one of the major environmental factors that influence the human skin. However, the relationship between temperature and melanogenesis has received little attention. In the present study, we investigated the effects of temperature change on melanogenesis in a mouse melanocyte cell line (Mel-Ab), and primary cultured human melanocytes. We found that Mel-Ab cells cultured at low temperatures (31 and 34 degrees C) produce less melanin than cells at 37 degrees C. These results were confirmed by experiments upon human melanocytes, demonstrating that the hypopigmenting effect of low temperatures is not cell type dependent. The observed melanin production was found to be accompanied by tyrosinase activity at each temperature, indicating that tyrosinase activity is regulated by temperature. We further examined whether the incubation period at low temperatures plays an important role in the regulation of melanogenesis. Short exposures to 27 degrees C for 1 h or 3 h did not affect tyrosinase activity or melanin synthesis, whereas long exposures to 31 degrees C for 2 days or 6 days significantly reduced tyrosinase activity and melanin synthesis in a duration-dependent manner. Our results suggest that exposure to low temperature and the duration of this exposure are important regulators of melanogenesis.