Topical application of caffeine sodium benzoate (caffeine-SB) immediately after UVB irradiation of SKH-1 mice enhanced UVB-induced apoptosis by a 2- to 3-fold greater extent than occurred after the topical application of an equimolar amount of caffeine. Although topical application of caffeine-SB or caffeine enhanced UVB-induced apoptosis, both substances were inactive on non-UVB-treated normal skin. Topical application of caffeine-SB or caffeine (each has UVB absorption properties) 0.5 h before irradiation with a high dose of UVB decreased UVB-induced thymine dimer formation and sunburn lesions (sunscreen effect). Caffeine-SB was more active than an equimolar amount of caffeine in exerting a sunscreen effect. In additional studies, caffeine-SB strongly inhibited the formation of tumors in UVB-pretreated 'high-risk mice' and in tumor-bearing mice, and the growth of UVB-induced tumors was also inhibited. Caffeine-SB and caffeine are the first examples of compounds that have both a sunscreen effect and enhance UVB-induced apoptosis. Our studies suggest that caffeine-SB and caffeine may be good agents for inhibiting the formation of sunlight-induced skin cancer.