During surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), molecules exhibit a significant increase in their Raman signals when attached, or in very close vicinity, to gold or silver nanostructures. This effect is exploited as the basis of a new class of optical labels. Here we demonstrate robust and sensitive SERS labels as probes for imaging live cells. These hybrid labels consist of gold nanoparticles with Rose Bengal or Crystal Violet attached as reporter molecules. These new labels are stable and nontoxic, do not suffer from photobleaching, and can be excited at any excitation wavelength, even in the near infrared. SERS labels can be detected and imaged through the specific Raman signatures of the reporters. In addition, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy in the local optical fields of the gold nanoparticles also provides sensitive information on the immediate molecular environment of the label in the cell and allows imaging of the native constituents of the cell. This is demonstrated by images based on a characteristic Raman line of the reporter as well as by displaying lipids based on the SERS signal of the CH deformation/bending modes at ∼1470 cm−1. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.