To evaluate the androgen control of sebum, subjects with complete androgen insensitivity and male pseudohermaphrodites with inherited 5 alpha-reductase deficiency and decreased dihydrotestosterone (DHT) production had sebum production studied. A hydrophobic polymeric film applied to the forehead was used to measure sebum production through the use of air filled micropores. Sebum scores of normal preadrenarchal children (ages 2-6), and normal age-matched adult males and females, were studied as well as males treated with the 5 alpha-reductase inhibitor, finasteride, for benign prostatic hyperplasia who were studied at baseline and after drug therapy. Androgen insensitive subjects had no sebum production by this methodology, and the results were identical to preadrenarchal children. In contrast, adult male pseudohermaphrodites with 5 alpha-reductase deficiency and a selective decrease in DHT production had sebum production scores identical to normal age-matched males. Males with benign prostatic hyperplasia treated with the 5 alpha-reductase inhibitor, finasteride, to lower DHT levels did not decrease the sebum score from baseline values. The lack of demonstrable sebum in androgen-insensitive subjects clearly demonstrates the absolute androgen control of sebum production. The DHT dependency of the sebaceous gland, however, could not be demonstrated in this study. Two 5 alpha-reductase isoenzymes 1 and 2, have been described. 5 alpha-reductase-2 is the gene responsible for inherited 5 alpha-reductase deficiency. Although the degree of inhibition of DHT in utero and in adulthood in male pseudohermaphrodites with a defect in 5 alpha-reductase-2 enzyme activity caused severe impairment of external genital and prostate differentiation and decreased facial and body hair, it had no demonstrable effect on sebaceous gland development or function. Furthermore, lowering DHT levels in adulthood had no effect on sebum production. If the gland is rich in the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase-2, it is proposed that the sebaceous gland is either exquisitely sensitive to DHT, requiring only small amounts for normal development and function, or that male levels of testosterone compensate for DHT and maintain normal sebaceous gland activity throughout life. It is also possible that 5 alpha-reductase-1 is the enzyme of the sebaceous gland and is unaffected in the inherited condition and by finasteride.