Background Aberrant expression patterns of nuclear lamins have been described in various types of cancer depending on the subtype of cancer, its aggressiveness, proliferative capacity and degree of differentiation. In general, the expression of A-type lamins (lamins A and C) has been correlated with a non-proliferating, differentiated state of cells and tissues. Objectives To establish and compare the expression patterns of lamins in normal human skin, actinic keratosis (AK), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Methods Expression patterns of the individual lamin subtypes were studied immunohistochemically. The proliferation capacity of the tumour cells was detected using a specific antibody to Ki-67, and was related to the A-type lamin expression patterns. Results In normal skin, lamin A was expressed in the suprabasal cell compartment of the epidermis, whereas the basal cells were mostly unstained. BCCs and SCCs stained positive in most cells, while the epidermis overlying BCC and SCC and the epidermis in AK stained homogeneously and strongly in the basal cells in addition to the suprabasal cells. Lamin C was expressed in some basal cells of normal epidermis while the suprabasal cells stained strongly positive. Both BCCs and SCCs stained strongly positive for lamin C, with the difference that in BCC the staining was predominantly present in nucleolar structures with occasional staining of the nuclear envelope. The epidermis overlying SCC showed strong positivity in the lamina of virtually all cells. The expression of lamin C in the basal cells of AK resembled the expression pattern seen in the epidermis overlying BCC, i.e. a nucleolar staining next to nuclear envelope staining. Lamin B1 and B2 were found in virtually all cells in normal epidermis, AK, BCC, SCC and the epidermis overlying cancer. The percentage of Ki-67-expressing cells was highest in BCC (45%), and gradually decreased via epidermis overlying BCC, AK, SCC, and epidermis overlying SCC, to normal skin (11%). Simultaneous expression of A-type lamins and Ki-67 occurred in approximately 50% of the proliferating (Ki-67 positive) cells in BCC and SCC. Conclusions Significant changes occur in the expression patterns of A-type lamins in both premalignant and malignant lesions of the skin. The profound overlap of lamin A and Ki-67 staining patterns indicates that the proliferating tumour cells may obtain a certain degree of differentiation. Finally, lamin A expression in the basal cell layer of the apparently normal epidermis overlying BCC may suggest its involvement in the primary process.