The synthesis of anthocyanin, the xanthophyll cycle, the antioxidant system and the production of active oxygen species (AOS) were compared between red and non-red apple cultivars, in response to either long-term sunlight exposure (high light intensity) during fruit development, or to exposure of bagged fruits to lower light intensity late in fruit development. During fruit development of red and non-red apples, the xanthophyll cycle pool size decreased much more in red apple peel late in development. With accumulation of AOS induced by long-term sunlight exposure, enhancement of the antioxidant system was found. However, this change became significantly lower in red apple than non-red apple as fruit developed, which might serve to accelerate the anthocyanin synthesis in red apple peel. When, late in fruit development, bagged fruits were exposed to sunlight, the accumulation of AOS was lower in red apple peel than in non-red peel. This could be due to the higher anthocyanin concentration in the red peels. Meanwhile, compared with that in non-red cultivar, the xanthophyll cycle and the antioxidant system in red apple peel were protected first but then down-regulated by its higher anthocyanin concentration during sunlight exposure. In conclusions, red and non-red apples peel possess different photoprotective mechanisms under high light conditions. The relationship between anthocyanin synthesis and the xanthophyll cycle, and the antioxidant system, depends on the light conditions that fruit undergoes.