Isoflavones derived from many edible plants, such as genistein from the soybean, have well-documented antioxidant and estrogenic activity but may also be anticarcinogenic. In this study, we examined the potential of the isoflavone equol [(S)-4',7-dihydroxyisoflavane] to protect from skin carcinogenesis in the hairless mouse. Daily topical applications of equol lotions significantly protected against skin carcinogenesis induced by chronic exposure to solar-simulated UV radiation (SSUV) or by topical treatment with the chemical carcinogen 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA) or by the combined cocarcinogenic treatment of DMBA followed by chronic SSUV. Monitoring of tumor development for 40 weeks showed significantly delayed tumor appearance and reduced tumor multiplicity in all equol-treated groups. In mice treated with either SSUV or DMBA + SSUV, equol significantly reduced the proportion of tumors progressing from benign papillomas to malignant squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by 33-58% and reduced the average diameter of SCC by 71-82%. In a short-term study, equol dose dependently inhibited the SSUV induction of the tumor promotion biomarker enzyme, ornithine decarboxylase, in the skin, suggesting the anticarcinogenic activity of equol may be attributed to its inhibition of the tumor promotion phase of carcinogenesis.