Commercial grade curcumin (approximately 77% curcumin, 17% demethoxycurcumin and 3% bisdemethoxycurcumin) is widely used as a yellow coloring agent and spice in foods. In the present study topical application of commercial grade curcumin, pure curcumin or demethoxycurcumin had an equally potent inhibitory effect on 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced increases in ornithine decarboxylase activity and TPA-induced tumor promotion in 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-initiated mouse skin. Bisdemethoxycurcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin were less active. In additional studies we found that commercial grade curcumin, pure curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin had about the same potent inhibitory effect on TPA-induced inflammation of mouse ears, as well as TPA-induced transformation of cultured JB6 (P+) cells. Tetrahydrocurcumin was less active. The results indicate that pure curcumin and demethoxycurcumin (the major constituents of commercial grade curcumin) have the same potent inhibitory effects as commercial grade curcumin for inhibition of TPA-induced tumor promotion, but bisdemethoxycurcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin are less active.