Jordan Nobbs (pictured) fired the Three Lions ahead early on with an effort from range, but an Elisa Camporese brace put the Italians 2-1 up midway through the first half.
Steph Houghton levelled matters with a header from a corner before Jess Clarke gave England the lead once more with an angled drive.
Ellen White secured the win with a cool finish in the 83rd minute to get the competition off to a good start for Hope Powell's side.
As well as Nobbs making her senior team bow, there was another notable landmark at the start of the game as Alex Scott led her country out for the first time.
It didn't long for Nobbs to make an impact as she fired England into the lead after just seven minutes of first half goal-fest.
Patient build-up play from the back saw the ball passed between goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and three of the back four before Kelly Smith picked up possession in the middle of the park.
She found Anita Asante in space, who played in Nobbs just over 20 yards out. She smashed the ball into the top left-hand corner with a sweet strike which gave Chiara Marchitelli no chance.
The Italians were level ten minutes later, though, when Camporese was played in through the centre by Pamela Conti and the winger dinked the ball over the on-rushing Bardsley.
Rachel Yankey, England's most capped player, might have put Powell's team back in front but her effort went just wide of the near post.
However, more goals were to come in a frantic six-minute spell which summed up the open nature of the first half.
First, Camporese grabbed her second of the game on 27 minutes, converting Sandy Iannella's right-wing cross at the back post, but England responded almost immediately as Houghton powerfully headed home Yankey's in-swinging corner.
And Clarke completed the manic spell by cutting in from the left and sending her shot, via a deflection, past Marchitelli to make it 3-2.
There could have been even more goals before the break as Bardsley was required to turn behind Iannella's low drive and then Conti hit the bar with a ferocious long-range effort.
The second half was a more low-key affair, although Eniola Aluko had a great chance to extend England's lead on 53 minutes.
Another good short, sharp passing exchange, this time between Alex Scott, Asante, Smith, Nobbs and Clarke, allowed Aluko to burst into the box but the Chelsea forward sliced her effort wide.
The Three Lions had a scare when Smith played an soft back pass to Bardsley. Patrizia Panico chased it down and Bardsley's clearance hit the Italian's knee and went in, only for referee Rhonda Daly to rule the goal out for a foul on the England 'keeper.
Bardsley was called into action soon after and got down well at her near post to deny Raffaella Manieri.
Smith fired an effort over the bar and her last action of the game before being replaced by Jill Scott was to play in Houghton, whose shot was also too high to trouble the Italians.
But substitute White, on for Yankey, wrapped up the victory in the 83rd minute with a calm finish from inside the box.
England's second Cyprus Cup game is against Scotland on Friday, International Women's Day.
England: 1 Karen Bardsley, 2 Alex Scott (C), 3 Steph Houghton, 5 Sophie Bradley, 8 Anita Asante, 9 Eniola Aluko, 10 Kelly Smith, 11 Rachel Yankey, 15 Jess Clarke, 17 Jordan Nobbs, 18 Laura Bassett
Substitutes not used: 13 Siobhan Chamberlain, 4 Jill Scott, 6 Casey Stoney, 7 Karen Carney, 12 Fara Williams, 14 Ellen White, 16, Rachel Unitt, 20 Toni Duggan
Source / photo - TheFA.com
See video footage:
Highlights here http://youtu.be/PQ0oP8gLEoA
A fantastic goal from Jordan Hobbs on her debut, a stunning 20 yard strike
A post match interview with Jordan here http://youtu.be/PQ0oP8gLEoA
Alex Scott post match on captaining England vs Italy http://youtu.be/H8aAhIw9iWo
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