Glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) are indicators of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality and have been associated with increased risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance has been associated with increased melanoma risk. However, GI and GL have not been investigated for melanoma. We present the first study to examine the possible association of GI and GL with melanoma risk. We carried out a population-based, case–control study involving 380 incident cases of cutaneous melanoma and 719 age- and sex-matched controls in a northern Italian region. Dietary GI and GL were computed for each subject using data from a self-administered, semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire. We computed the odds ratio (OR) for melanoma according to quintiles of distribution of GL and GL among controls. A direct association between melanoma risk and GL emerged in females (OR 2·38; 95 % CI 1·25, 4·52 for the highest v. the lowest quintile of GL score, Pfor trend 0·070) but not in males. The association in females persisted in the multivariable analysis after adjusting for several potential confounders. There was no evidence of an association between GI and melanoma risk. GL might be associated with melanoma risk in females.