Background: Topical photochemotherapy with bath psoralen plus ultraviolet (UV) A irradiation (PUVA) has been developed to reduce possible side-effects of oral PUVA therapy. Although the efficacy of bath PUVA therapy appears to be similar to oral PUVA therapy, provision of bathing facilities has obvious economic, logistic and sanitary implications. Cream PUVA therapy has recently been developed as a variation of topical PUVA. Objectives To understand the photobiological effects and to increase the safety and effectiveness of this novel topical PUVA therapy, we assessed the kinetics and dose-response of phototoxicity of 8-methoxypsoralen (8-MOP) cream in order to develop a treatment schedule for this treatment option. Methods Ninety-eight patients (63 men and 35 women) undergoing cream PUVA therapy were studied. The phototoxic properties of topically applied 8-MOP in three different water-in-oil creams as vehicles were assessed. In a dose-response study, four concentrations of 8-MOP cream (0.0006-0.005%) were used for determination of the minimal phototoxic dose (MPD). The kinetics of photosensitization were tested by determination of MPDs after different application times of 8-MOP cream (10, 20, 30 and 60 min). The persistence of phototoxicity was assessed by UVA exposure at defined time intervals after application of 8-MOP cream (0, 30, 60 and 120 min). Results The concentration required to produce sufficient but not undue photosensitization of the skin was 0.001% 8-MOP. The duration of application leading to the lowest MPD was 30 min. Greatest photosensitization was achieved when UVA irradiation was performed between 0 and 30 min after 8-MOP removal. These findings showed no significant difference between the three vehicles used. Conclusions Based on our data we recommend application of 0.001% 8-MOP in a water-in-oil cream for 30 min. Irradiation with UVA should be performed within 30 min after removal of 8-MOP cream, as there is a rapid decrease in photosensitivity thereafter.