The effect of pretreatment of skin of Sencar mice with topically applied tannic acid, quercetin and green tea polyphenols (GTP) on the skin tumor initiating activity of (+/-)-7 beta,8 alpha-dihydroxy-9 alpha,10 alpha-epoxy-7,8,9,10-tetrahydrobenzo[a]pyrene (BPDE-2) has been evaluated. The animals were pretreated with the plant phenols (tannic acid and quercetin (3000 nmol) or GTP 24 mg/mouse) for 7 days after which they received a single topical application of 200 nmol of BPDE-2 as the initiating agent. Beginning 7 days following initiation animals received twice weekly applications of 3.24 nmol of 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA). Tannic acid and GTP afforded significant protection against skin tumor induction. These inhibitory effects were verified both by prolongation of the latency period and subsequent development of tumors. Quercetin, on the other hand, afforded only moderate protection. Each phenolic compound was found to be highly effective in accelerating the disappearance of BPDE-2 from aqueous medium. Our results suggest that tannic acid and GTP have substantial potential for protecting against the skin tumorigenic response to BPDE-2 and the mechanism of inhibition may involve inactivation of the reactive carcinogenic moiety.