The major histological characteristic of sun-damaged skin is the accumulation of an elastotic material that appears to replace collagen. This elastotic material consists primarily of elastin and histological studies suggest a large loss of collagen in the dermis of chronically sun-damaged skin. In this study, we examine the content and distribution of collagen and procollagen in sun-damaged human skin. The total collagen content of sun-damaged skin was 20% less than nonsolar-exposed skin (524 micrograms collagen per mg total protein in sun-damaged skin and 667 micrograms collagen per mg total protein in nonsolar-exposed skin). In addition, there was a 40% decrease in the content of intact amino propeptide moiety of type III procollagen in sun-damaged skin (0.68 U per 50 mg wet weight) as compared to nonsolar-exposed skin (1.12 U per 50 mg wet weight). The data suggest that this change in collagen content is due to increased degradation. The distribution of collagen in sun-damaged skin was examined by indirect immunofluorescence. Mild digestion of sun-damaged skin with elastase removed the elastin and revealed the presence of collagen in the elastotic material. Therefore, the elastin appears to mask the presence of collagen fibers in the dermis of sun-damaged skin.