Glabridin is the main ingredient in hydrophobic fraction of licorice extract affecting on skins. In this study, we investigated inhibitory effects of glabridin on melanogenesis and inflammation using cultured B16 murine melanoma cells and guinea pig skins. The results indicated that glabridin inhibits tyrosinase activity of these cells at concentrations of 0.1 to 1.0 microg/ml and had no detectable effect on their DNA synthesis. Combined analysis of SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and DOPA staining on the large granule fraction of these cells disclosed that glabridin decreased specifically the activities of T1 and T3 tyrosinase isozymes. It was also shown that UVB-induced pigmentation and erythema in the skins of guinea pigs were inhibited by topical applications of 0.5% glabridin. Anti-inflammatory effects of glabridin in vitro were also shown by its inhibition of superoxide anion productions and cyclooxygenase activities. These data indicated that glabridin is a unique compound possessing more than one function; not only the inhibition of melanogenesis but also the inhibition of inflammation in the skins. By replacing each of hydroxyl groups of glabridin with others, it was revealed that the inhibitory effect of 2'-O-ethyl glabridin was significantly stronger than that of 4'-O-ethyl-glabridin on melanin synthesis in cultured B16 cells at the concentration of 1.0 mg/ml. With replacement of both of two hydroxyl groups, the inhibitory effect was totally lost. Based on these data, we concluded that two hydroxyl groups of glabridin are important for the inhibition of melanin synthesis and that the hydroxyl group at the 4' position of this compound is more closely related to melanin synthesis.