Increased exposure to solar ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation causes oxidative damage that may promote age related macular degeneration (AMD) and other ocular pathologies. This study is aimed to demonstrate the protective effects of some anthocyanins and xanthophylls against the UVB-induced oxidative damage to retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. ARPE-19 cells were treated with 5 μM cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, delphinidin-3-O-glucoside, lutein, zeaxanthin or a mixture of cyanidin-3-O-glucoside:zeaxanthin prior to UVB exposure (500 J m(-2)). Cell viability and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphorylation were determined by MTT assay and western blot analysis, respectively. Oxidative damage was evaluated by measuring the intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS). The data showed that UVB irradiation reduces the cell viability to 46% with increasing of intracellular ROS levels and phosphorylation of MAPKs. However, pre-treatment (60 min) with 5 μM cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, lutein or zeaxanthin significantly reduced cellular ROS levels and phosphorylation of MAPKs (JNK1/2 and p38) mediated by UVB irradiation and subsequently increased cell viability. Thus, results show that UVB irradiation is able to induce apoptosis in ARPE-19 cells through oxidative stress; however anthocyanins and xanthophylls pre-treatment can attenuate this damage. This suggests that cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, lutein and zeaxanthin are effective in preventing UVB-induced damage in RPE cells and may be suitable as chemoprotective factors for the prevention of ocular damage. The use of natural dietary antioxidants might reduce ocular oxidative damage caused by UVB radiation.