Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation (MALDI) quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (Q-TOFMS) has been used to detect and image the distribution of a xenobiotic substance in skin. Porcine epidermal tissue was treated with ‘Nizoral’, a medicated shampoo containing ketoconazole ((±)-1-acetyl-4-[p-[[(2R,4S)-2-(2,4-dichlorophenyl)-2-(imidazol-1-ylmethyl)-1,3-dioxolan-4-yl]methoxy]phenyl]piperazine) as active ingredient. Following incubation for 1 h at 37°C all excess formulation was washed from the surface. A cross-section of the drug-treated tissue was then blotted onto a cellulose membrane, precoated in matrix (α-cyano-4-hydroxycinnamic acid (CHCA)), by airspray deposition. In separate experiments the tissue surface was treated with Nizoral within a triangular former, and subsequently blotted onto a matrix-coated membrane. Sample membranes were then mounted into the recess of specialised MALDI targets with adhesive tape. All samples were analysed by MALDI-TOFMS using an Applied Biosystem ‘Q-star Pulsar i’ hybrid Q-TOF mass spectrometer fitted with an orthagonal MALDI ion source and imaging software. Detection of the protonated molecule was readily achievable by this technique. Treatment of the tissue within a template gave rise to images depicting the expected distribution of the drug, demonstrating that this technique is capable of producing spatially useful data. Ion images demonstrating the permeation of the applied compound into the skin were achieved by imaging a cross-sectional imprint of treated tissue. A calibration graph for the determination of ketoconazole was prepared using the sodium adduct of the matrix ion as an internal standard. This enabled construction of a quantitative profile of drug in skin. Conventional haematoxylin and eosin staining and microscopy methods were employed to obtain a histological image of the porcine epidermal tissue. Superimposing the mass spectrometric and histological images appeared to indicate drug permeation into the dermal tissue layer. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.