Ultraviolet B (UV-B) irradiation of C3H/HeN mice induces skin cancer. In this study, the ability of dietary d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate to reduce photocarcinogenesis was tested in this murine model. Skin cancers developed in 67.5% of UV-B-irradiated mice by 31 weeks after the first UV exposure. Supplementation with 100 or 200 IU of d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate per kilogram of diet led to a reduction of the incidence to 46% and 19%, respectively. The latter value was significantly different from that found in mice fed the basal diet (p = 0.039, one-sided P value by log-rank test). Skin levels of alpha-tocopherol varied with the dietary dose of d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate. No toxicity was evident in unirradiated mice fed the vitamin E-supplemented diet, but 40% of the UV-B-irradiated mice fed 200 IU of vitamin E per kilogram of diet died by 31 weeks after the first UV-B treatment. Decreased relative spleen weight was observed in the UV-B-irradiated mice fed the vitamin E-supplemented diet. In summary, oral d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate prevented photocarcinogenesis, but at doses that were toxic to inbred C3H/HeN mice after exposure to 8.6 x 10(5) J/m2 of UV-B irradiation.