This study assessed the in vitro percutaneous absorption and metabolism of 3-indolylacetic acid after topical dosing to human skin from four sources. The metabolism of the compound during percutaneous absorption was assessed. The absorbed and metabolized chemicals were analyzed by radioactive scintillation counting and thin-layer chromatography: 1.2% +/- 0.04%, 1.4% +/- 0.07%, 3.0% +/- 1.0%, and 0.1% +/- 0.02% of the applied doses permeated through human skin samples from sources A to D, respectively, whereas 3.4% +/- 0.5% to 20.0% +/- 0.2% of the applied doses were retained by the skin. Of the absorbed dose, 2.1% +/- 1.0% to 12.1% +/- 3.5% was present as metabolites in the receptor fluid, and 2.2% +/- 0.5% to 5.2% +/- 0.1% was present as metabolites retained in the skin. Microsomal fractions were prepared from the skin samples, and the actions of these preparations on 3-indolylacetic acid were estimated. 5'-Hydroxyl-3-indolylacetic acid, 5',6'-dihydroxy-3-indolylacetic acid, and 5,6-dihydroxyindole were formed both during percutaneous absorption and by skin microsomal preparations. In addition, the skin samples biotransformed the acid to metabolic indican (3-indoxylsulfuric acid) and to the glucuronide conjugate of indole. The possible functional significance of the metabolism is discussed.