Based on the hypothesis that limited receptor solubility of lipophilic compounds may result in lower observed permeability parameters, the aim of this study was to determine the in vitro human epidermal permeability coefficients and membrane retention of a series of aliphatic alcohols (C1-C10, log p-0.72 to 4.06) using two different receptor solutions (water and 4% bovine serum albumin in phosphate-buffered saline). Aqueous solutions of radiolabeled alcohols were dosed into the stratum corneum side of membranes mounted in side-by-side glass diffusion cells. Appearance of alcohol in the receptor compartment filled with either of the two solutions was monitored over a 7 h period when both stratum corneum (assessed by tape stripping) and the remaining epidermis levels of radioactivity were determined. In a separate study the degree of binding of alcohols to 4% bovine serum albumin was determined. The data showed increased receptor phase solubility in the bovine serum albumin solution and higher permeability coefficients for the more lipophilic alcohols in the series. No changes were seen in the partitioning of the alcohols from the vehicle into either the stratum corneum or tape-stripped epidermis with the two receptor phases; however, a decrease in the amount of the more lipophilic alcohols partitioning into the water receptor phase from the tape-stripped epidermis was observed. We conclude that bovine serum albumin receptor phase allows better estimation of real permeability parameters for lipophilic compounds due to its increased solubility capacity and we question whether permeability parameters for lipophilic solutes from older data sets based on aqueous receptor phases are completely reliable.