Idiopathic photodermatoses are common diseases in dermatology clinics that are associated with ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. The group includes a few dermatoses such as polymorphous light eruption (PLE) and chronic actinic dermatitis (CAD). The prevalence of PLE and CAD in China has not been previously reported. To investigate the population-based prevalence of polymorphous light eruption (PLE) and chronic actinic dermatitis (CAD) in six minority groups living in four regions with significantly different altitudes in the Yunnan province, a questionnaire survey was administered to 4899 residents of random villages in Yuanjiang county (Dai and Hani minorities), Kunming city (Han people and Yi minority), Lijiang county (Naxi minority), and Shangri-La county (Zang minority). The altitudes of these counties are 380 m, 1870 m, 2410 m and 3280 m a.s.l., respectively. The results showed that, first, there were 2400 males (49.0%) and 2499 females (51.0%). The prevalence of PLE was 0.65% (32/4899), and the prevalence of CAD was 0.18% (9/4899). PLE was higher among females than males (3.8 vs 1, P < 0.01). The CAD prevalence was not significantly different between males and females (1.6 vs 1, P > 0.05). Second, the prevalence of PLE was increased in higher elevations regions compared to lower elevations (P < 0.01). However, the prevalence of CAD was not significantly different among the four regions (P > 0.05). Third, the mean times of sun exposure for PLE and CAD were 6.0 and 6.5 h/day, respectively. The mean durations of PLE and CAD were 5.8 years, and 6.6 years, respectively. The study demonstrated that the prevalence of PLE is higher than that of CAD in Yunnan, and that the prevalence of PLE is correlated with altitude.