We conducted a case-control study of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (SCC) in a cohort of people followed from 1987 to 1994. Subjects were residents of Geraldton, Western Australia, who were between 40 and 64 years of age in 1987. On 2 occasions, in 1987 and 1992, dermatologists examined participants for skin cancers. Subjects were also asked on several occasions about skin cancers that they had had treated. Migrants to Australia had reduced risks of SCC. Furthermore, people who migrated to Australia early in life or, equivalently, lived in Australia for a long time had a higher risk than immigrants who arrived later in life or more recently. People who had southern European ancestry had a much lower risk of SCC than other subjects, most of whom were of British or northern European origin. Among Australian-born subjects of British or northern European ancestry, the skin's sensitivity to sunlight was strongly associated with SCC. The pigmentary traits of hair colour, eye colour and skin colour showed weaker associations. The degree of freckling on the arm was strongly predictive of risk. The risk of SCC increased strongly with increasing evidence of cutaneous solar damage and was most strongly associated with the number of solar keratoses. Our results show that sensitivity to sunlight and high levels of exposure to sunlight are important determinants of the risk of SCC.