Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a cofactor required for the function of several hydroxylases and monooxygenases. It is not synthesized in humans and some other animal species and has to be provided by diet or pharmacologic means. Its absence is responsible for scurvy, a condition related in its initial phases to a defective synthesis of collagen by the reduced function of prolylhydroxylase and production of collagen polypeptides lacking hydroxyproline, therefore, they are unable to assemble into stable triple-helical collagen molecules. In fibroblast cultures, vitamin C also stimulates collagen production by increasing the steady-state level of mRNA of collagen types I and III through enhanced transcription and prolonged half-life of the transcripts. The aim of the experimental work has been to evaluate the effect on dermal cells of a preparation of vitamin C topically applied on one side vs placebo on the other side of the dorsal face of the upper forearm of postmenopausal women. Biopsies were collected on both sides and the level of mRNA measured by non competitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction made quantitative by the simultaneous transcription and amplification of synthetic RNA used as internal standards. The mRNA of collagen type I and type III were increased to a similar extent by vitamin C and that of three post-translational enzymes, the carboxy- and amino-procollagen proteinases and lysyloxidase similarly increased. The mRNA of decorin was also stimulated, but elastin, and fibrillin 1 and 2 were not modified by the vitamin. The expression of matrix metalloproteinases 1, 2, and 9 was not significantly changed, but an increased level of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 1 mRNA was observed without modification of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 2 mRNA. The stimulating activity of topical vitamin C was most conspicuous in the women with the lowest dietary intake of the vitamin and unrelated to the level of actinic damage. The results indicate that the functional activity of the dermal cells is not maximal in postmenopausal women and can be increased.