Topical application of lotions containing the phytoestrogenic isoflavonoid equol have been reported to protect mice against UV radiation-induced inflammation, immune suppression and photocarcinogenesis. The photoimmune protective property was shown to depend on equol's activation of oestrogen receptor signalling in the skin. However, isoflavones are also recognised for their antioxidant properties in biological systems. As endogenous cutaneous antioxidant enzymes including the inducible stress protein haem oxygenase (HO)-1, have photoprotective efficacy, this study in the Skh:hr-1 hairless mouse seeks evidence for an antioxidant role for equol in contributing to its photoimmune protection. Oxidative stress has been measured as UVA-induced lipid peroxidation in the mouse skin, and was dose-dependently inhibited by topical equol. Inhibition of the UVA (320-400 nm)-inducible HO activity significantly reduced the level of equol protection against lipid peroxidation, thereby attributing a component of equol's lipid protection capacity to this stress enzyme. It was consistent that topical equol enhanced the level of HO induction by UVA irradiation in both skin and liver. Subsequently, the dose-dependent protection by topical equol lotions against solar simulated UV radiation induced immunosuppression, measured by the contact hypersensitivity reaction, was found also to be partially reduced by the inhibition of HO activity. Therefore, in addition to the activation by equol of oestrogenic signalling pathways for photoprotection, this isoflavonoid also provides UV-protective antioxidant effects that depend partially on HO-1 induction.