The direct measurement of local drug concentration levels at discreet skin locations with minor trauma has recently become possible with the introduction of cutaneous microdialysis. Cutaneous microdialysis is an in vivo sampling technique for measuring solutes in the extracellular fluid of the dermis. When used in combination with other experimental approaches, for example with a variety of non-invasive techniques to describe the functional status of the skin (bioengineering methods), it may help investigators to gain new insights into the fields of skin diseases, metabolism and drug absorption/penetration. An important parameter to describe the efficacy of microdialysis is the relative recovery. This is the ratio between the concentration of a substance in the dialysate and the true extracellular concentration. Several methods are in common use to describe the relative recovery (no-net-flux method or retrodialysis). Parameters such as probe design, depth of the probe in the dermis, physico-chemical properties of the compound of interest, and analytical aspects are important factors influencing microdialysis. Microdialysis has been used to investigate the influence of penetration enhancers, vehicles or iontophoresis on percutaneous absorption, performed by in vivo studies in rats. In human volunteers, most of the experiments have been performed to study the kinetics of fast penetrating substances, e.g. nicotine, non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs, local anaesthetics, or solvents. Problems have been encountered in the detection of lipophilic and highly protein-bound substances. Further, dermal metabolism and the influence of barrier perturbation on percutaneous absorption have been analyzed. Investigations suggest that microdialysis, in combination with traditional techniques, might give valuable information regarding the assessment of the penetration of drugs and other exogenous agents through the skin. In spite of the clearly defined and accepted advantages of microdialysis technology for studies of transdermal drug delivery, to date no standardized test procedure exists nor has the reproducibility of the results been evaluated. In the future, these problems have to be solved to enable this method to find its place in standard research.