Antioxidants may play a significant role in ameliorating or preventing photobiologic damage in skin that could lead to cutaneous disorders such as cancer and premature aging. The objective of this study was to assess the acute cutaneous enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidant response to a single exposure of large fluence (300 mJ/cm2) ultraviolet radiation (greater than 280 nm) in hairless mice. This treatment caused an immediate and statistically significant inhibition of glutathione reductase and catalase activity. Glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase were not affected. Glutathione levels decreased and, conversely glutathione disulfide concentrations increased. A slight depletion of the total glutathione was observed, while the content of total ascorbic acid did not change. The lipophilic antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, ubiquinol 9 and ubiquinone 9 also decreased significantly, and the concentration of malondialdehyde remained constant. The free radical scavenging activity of epidermis, as assessed by reduction of the stable, cationic nitroxide radical [2,2,6,6-tetramethyl-1-piperidinoxy-4-(2',4',6'-trimethyl) methylpyridinium perchlorate] was considerably inhibited. The study indicates that immediately after exposure to a large fluence of ultraviolet radiation the enzymic and nonenzymic antioxidant capacity of skin decreases significantly.