The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of low iron state in a two-stage mouse skin carcinogenesis model using 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-initiated and benzoyl peroxide (BPO)-promoted cutaneous tumorigenesis. All mice were treated with DMBA. Low iron state was achieved by injection with phenylhydrazine hydrochloride and feeding low iron diet. A low iron state resulted in a decrease in tumor incidence (papillomas and carcinomas) and number of tumors/mouse. Also, the conversion of papillomas to carcinomas was lower in mice on a low iron state. BPO treatment enhanced epidermal lipid peroxidation (LPO) and was accompanied by a depletion in the level of epidermal reduced glutathione (GSH) and decrease in the activities of antioxidant enzymes. BPO treatment also increased ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity and [3H]thymidine incorporation into cutaneous DNA. Mice in a low iron state were less susceptible to the effects of BPO treatment, as was apparent from a partial recovery of GSH levels and the activities of antioxidant enzymes, as well as a lower induction in ODC activity, [3H]thymidine incorporation into cutaneous DNA and lesser epidermal LPO. As expected, cutaneous iron levels were lower in mice on a low iron state. Thus, our data show that the tumor-promoting potential of BPO is reduced by low iron state in a two-stage mouse skin carcinogenesis model. © 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.