Topical application of curcumin, the major yellow pigment in turmeric and curry, has a potent inhibitory effect on 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced tumor promotion in mouse skin. The structurally related compounds chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and ferulic acid are less potent inhibitors. Curcumin is a potent inhibitor of TPA-induced ornithine decarboxylase activity and inflammation in mouse skin whereas chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and ferulic acid are only weakly active or inactive. Curcumin is a potent inhibitor of arachidonic acid-induced inflammation in vivo in mouse skin, and this compound is also a potent inhibitor of epidermal lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase activity in vitro. Although chlorogenic acid is only weakly active as an inhibitor of epidermal lipoxygenase activity and TPA-induced ear inflammation, it is more active than caffeic acid and ferulic acid. The inhibitory effects of curcumin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and ferulic acid on TPA-induced tumor promotion in mouse skin parallel their inhibitory effects on TPA-induced epidermal inflammation and epidermal lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase activities. Examination of the structural features of curcumin required for its biological activity indicate that free hydroxyl groups on the benzene rings are not required for inhibition of TPA-induced ornithine decarboxylase activity and inflammation in mouse skin.