The role of the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase phosphatases (MKPs) in light-damaged cells is unclear. Therefore we investigated the involvement of MKP-1 in the regulation of apoptosis and cell survival mediated by MAP kinase pathways in light-damaged human retinal pigment epithelial cells (ARPE-19). Light dose-dependent changes in the expression of MKP-1 and in the phosphorylation status of the MAP kinases, c-Jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 were demonstrated. Low light doses up to 2 J cm−2 led to an upregulation of MKP-1 which resulted in the prevention of cell death by inactivating JNK kinase. However, higher light doses (≥3 J cm−2) significantly reduced MKP-1 protein expression and subsequently led to an increased JNK kinase activity followed by a significant increase in cell death. JNK kinase inactivation by the JNK inhibitor SP600125 significantly reduced light-induced cell death, suggesting that the cytoprotective properties of MKP-1 are mediated mainly by the JNK MAP kinase pathway. Physiological concentrations of ascorbic acid or taurine were seen to prevent apoptosis and cell death in light-damaged ARPE-19 cells by reducing oxidative stress within cells, thus maintaining MKP-1 at high levels, leading to an inactivation of the JNK kinase pathway which resulted in an increased cell viability.