Sun exposure is causal for melanoma but is subject to bias of recall so that it is difficult to dissect the role of particular patterns of sun exposure. In this hospital-based case-control study (n = 1991), we aimed to analyze pigmentation traits and signs of actinic damage at different anatomic locations as markers of melanoma risk in central European patients. Although all signs of actinic damage (freckling, wrinkling and solar lentigos) were significantly associated with melanoma risk in multivariate logistic regression models adjusting for age and sex, the strongest associations were observed for the dorsal parts of the body: adjusted odds ratios [OR] were 4.22 for wrinkling on the neck, 3.43 for solar lentigos and 3.37 for freckling on the back (all P < 0.001), respectively. These associations were independent of age, sex and pigmentation traits. Our results indicate that signs of actinic damage are predictors of melanoma risk, particularly on the back.