There is no clinically available cancer immunotherapy that exploits Langerhans cells (LCs), the epidermal precursors of dendritic cells (DCs) that are the natural agent of antigen delivery. We developed a DNA formulation with a polymer and obtained synthetic ‘pathogen-like’ nanoparticles that preferentially targeted LCs in epidermal cultures. These nanoparticles applied topically under a patch-elicited robust immune responses in human subjects. To demonstrate the mechanism of action of this novel vaccination strategy in live animals, we assembled a high-resolution two-photon laser scanning-microscope. Nanoparticles applied on the native skin poorly penetrated and poorly induced LC motility. The combination of nanoparticle administration and skin treatment was essential both for efficient loading the vaccine into the epidermis and for potent activation of the LCs to migrate into the lymph nodes. LCs in the epidermis picked up nanoparticles and accumulated them in the nuclear region demonstrating an effective nuclear DNA delivery in vivo. Tissue distribution studies revealed that the majority of the DNA was targeted to the lymph nodes. Preclinical toxicity of the LC-targeting DNA vaccine was limited to mild and transient local erythema caused by the skin treatment. This novel, clinically proven LC-targeting DNA vaccine platform technology broadens the options on DC-targeting vaccines to generate therapeutic immunity against cancer.