Hibiscus protocatechuic acid (PCA), a phenolic acid isolated from Hibiscus sabdariffa L., was evaluated for its ability to inhibit the 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced promotion in skin tumors of female CD-1 mice. Topical application of PCA (5, 10 or 20 micromol) 5 min prior to TPA (15 nmol) treatment twice weekly for 20 weeks to mice which were initiated with benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P) inhibited the incidence of tumors in mice to 81.3, 62.5 and 56.3%, respectively, while all mice in the TPA-treated group developed tumors. The average number of tumors in mice pretreated with PCA was 2-4 and that of mice treated only with TPA was 6.6. The protection effects of PCA were also presented by its significant suppression on the TPA-induced hyperplasia in the skin and edema of mouse ears by 65 and 73% at doses of 10 and 20 micromol, respectively. When it was applied to the dorsal surface of CD-1 mice before TPA application, PCA (5, 10 or 20 micromol) inhibited the induction of epidermal ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity by 5 nmol TPA and myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity by 6.5 nmol TPA. The same doses of PCA also reduced the formation of hydrogen peroxide in the mouse skin to an inhibition of 61, 84 and 89%, respectively, when compared with that of the TPA-treated group. These results indicate that PCA possesses potential as a cancer chemopreventive agent against tumor promotion.