Fatty acids classified as chemical penetration enhancers (CPEs) might cause the fluidization and perturbation of stratum corneum (SC) lipid matrix. The penetration of oleic, linoleic, lauric and capric acids into human skin was studied by time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) imaging and related to fatty acids enhancing effect on lipophilic model drug tolnaftate penetration into human epidermis and dermis ex vivo. Fatty acid enhancing effect on tolnaftate penetration into human skin was evaluated using Bronaugh-type flow-through diffusion cells. After in vitro penetration studies visualization and spatial localization of fatty acid molecules in human skin were performed using TOF-SIMS. Penetration of oleic, linoleic, lauric and capric acids into human skin was compared to the control skin sections by ion images and intensity profiles. Only oleic acid significantly (P<0.05) enhanced tolnaftate penetration into epidermis (enhancing ratio equal to 1.867). CPE might have no effect on model drug penetration enhancement, but might penetrate itself into the skin.