Chronic exposure of hairless mice to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation is associated with inflammation as well as an altered macromolecular composition of the dermis. This study was designed to determine whether or not various systemic anti-inflammatory agents inhibit chronic UVB-induced changes in the macromolecular content of the dermis and, if so, whether each agent had the same or different effects. The agents and doses were chosen for their ability to inhibit the changes induced by a single exposure to UVB radiation (increased vasopermeability, neutrophil accumulation, and skin-fold thickness). Indomethacin, a cyclooxygenase inhibitor, and meclizine, an H1 histamine receptor antagonist, were administered from slow-release pellets. BW755C, a combined cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase inhibitor, was administered intraperitoneally 30 min prior to UVB exposure. Animals were exposed to UVB three times per week for 20-26 weeks or were unirradiated. The elastin, glycosaminoglycan and collagen content of the skin were determined by measuring the desmosine, uronic acid, and hydroxyproline levels, respectively. The amount of each macromolecule per area of skin increased after chronic UVB exposure. The increase in desmosine was inhibited by indomethacin; the increase in hydroxyproline was inhibited by meclizine and BW755C. None of the agents inhibited the uronic acid increase. These results suggest that chronic inflammation contributes to the dermal changes seen in chronically UVB-exposed skin and that different inflammatory mediators are involved in the increases observed in elastin, glycosaminoglycans, and collagen.