Two of the major cutaneous consequences of ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure are immunosuppression and the development of skin cancer. This study examined whether these effects are genetically determined. Suppression of contact hypersensitivity by local, low-dose UV radiation was examined in what have been termed 'UV-susceptible' and 'UV-resistant' strains of mice. C3H/HeJ mice ('UV resistant') were resistant to the adverse effects of low-dose UV radiation when normal doses of hapten were applied to UV-irradiated skin; however, they were sensitive when the amount of hapten used for sensitization was reduced. A similar effect was observed in BALB/c mice ('UV resistant') and when the hapten was dimethylbenz(a)anthracene, thus indicating that the genetic variation was not strain or hapten specific. Despite the fact that some strains were sensitive and some were resistant to low-dose UV radiation when high doses of hapten were employed, all strains initially sensitized to hapten through UV-irradiated skin were found to be unresponsive when rechallenged on normal skins no matter what the initial sensitizing dose of hapten was. To determine whether other biologic effects of UV also exhibited genetic variation, C3H/HeN and C3H/HeJ mice were compared for susceptibility to UVB-induced skin cancer formation. C3H/HeJ mice developed significantly more tumors than C3H/HeN mice when subjected to a single dose of UV radiation followed by repeated exposure to the tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoyl- phorbol-13-acetate. These studies provide strong evidence that genetic factors influence individual susceptibility to the biologic effects of UV radiation.