The number of UV-induced (20 mJ cm(-2)) reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated in nucleated epidermis is dependent upon the length of time the UV filter octocrylene, octylmethoxycinnamate, or benzophenone-3 remains on the skin surface. Two-photon fluorescence images acquired immediately after application of each formulation (2 mg cm(-2)) to the skin surface show that the number of ROS produced is dramatically reduced relative to the skin-UV filter control. After each UV filter remains on the skin surface for t=20 min, the number of ROS generated increases, although it remains below the number generated in the control. By t=60 min, the filters generate ROS above the control. The data show that when all three of the UV filters penetrate into the nucleated layers, the level of ROS increases above that produced naturally by epidermal chromophores under UV illumination.