Background Recent studies have demonstrated that a tanning lamp emitting predominantly ultraviolet (UV) A induces significant yields of the type of potentially mutagenic DNA damage that are associated with the onset of skin cancer (i.e. cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers). UV-induced immunosuppression is also an important event leading to skin cancer.Objectives To the modulation of key immunological molecules following exposure to a broad-spectrum UVB lamp and a predominantly UVA-emitting tanning lamp using model in vitro systems.Methods We compared secretion and mRNA expression of interleukin (IL)-6 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α in normal human epidermal keratinocytes, and interferon (IFN)-γ-induced intracellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1 in normal human fibroblasts irradiated in vitro with a broad-spectrum UVB lamp or with a Philips ‘Performance’ tanning lamp.Results With broad-spectrum UVB irradiation, upregulation of IL-6 and TNF-α mRNA was detected 6 h after irradiation, and a dose-dependent increase of cytokines in the supernatants of irradiated cells was found 24 h after irradiation. In contrast, there was no cytokine secretion and little evidence for mRNA upregulation following exposure to a tanning lamp. When cells were exposed first to broad-spectrum UVB, then the tanning lamp, UVB-induced cytokine secretion was inhibited, although mRNA levels were upregulated to a level close to that observed with UVB alone. By using a Schott WG 320 nm filter to attenuate the level of UVB relative to UVA emitted by the tanning lamp, the inhibition of cytokine secretion was shown to be associated with UVA exposure. Both UV sources inhibited IFN-γ-induced ICAM-1 mRNA expression in a dose-dependent fashion. By using a Schott WG 335 nm filter, inhibition of ICAM-1 mRNA expression by the tanning lamp was shown to be associated with UVB exposure.Conclusions These results suggest that UV sources emitting different levels of UVA and UVB have differential effects on the modulation of different immunoregulatory molecules, and indicate that there are potential interactions between these wavelengths.