In vitro and in vivo skin penetration of three drugs with different lipophilicities and the enhancing effects of l-geranylazacycloheptan-2-one (GACH) were studied in rats. In vivo drug absorption profiles obtained by deconvolution of urinary excretion profiles were compared to the corresponding in vitro data obtained with a diffusion experiment. In vivo skin penetration of lipophilic butylparaben was considerably greater than that observed in vitro, while hydrophilic mannitol and acyclovir showed low penetration in both systems without GACH pretreatment. On the other hand, GACH enhanced mannitol and acyclovir penetration, especially in the in vivo system. Analysis of absorption profiles, using a two-layer skin model with polar and nonpolar routes in the stratum corneum, suggested that the diffusion length of a viable layer (viable epidermis and dermis) was shorter in vivo than in vitro and the effective area of the polar route in the stratum corneum was larger in vitro without GACH pretreatment. GACH increased the partitioning of acyclovir into the nonpolar route to the same extent in both systems. In addition, GACH increased the effective area of the polar route in vivo, probably because of enhanced water permeability; however, this effect was smaller in vitro since the stratum corneum was already hydrated even without GACH pretreatment.