Isotretinoin is the most potent human teratogen on the market. Women for whom contraception fails may conceive during or soon after discontinuing isotretinoin therapy, making its elimination kinetics a crucial determinant of fetal safety. The steady-state pharmacokinetics of isotretinoin and its major 4-oxo metabolite were studied in 16 adult patients treated for acne who were receiving doses that ranged from 0.47 to 1.7 mg/kg daily. This is the first study of the pharmacokinetics of isotretinoin in women of childbearing age (n = 11). The clinical efficacy and tolerability of isotretinoin was investigated, and the correlation between these data and steady-state serum concentrations of isotretinoin was tested. The concentration-time data best fitted a two-compartment open model with linear elimination. There was no correlation between efficacy and tolerability of isotretinoin and steady-state serum concentrations. There was no correlation between dose of isotretinoin and steady-state concentration, due to the large variability in apparent clearance. Values for elimination half-life (t1/2) of isotretinoin and its metabolite were 29+/-40 hours and 22+/-10 hours, respectively. These data suggest a longer elimination t1/2 of the parent drug than previously reported. This is probably due to the longer sampling time used in this study (as long as 28 days). This study suggests that a greater variability exists in the safe time after discontinuation of the drug for onset of conception.