The mechanism of skin penetration enhancement by ultrasound under sonophoresis (US) or by an electrical field under iontophoresis (IP) was investigated using hairless mouse skin in vitro. The seven model chemicals with different molecular weights (122-1485) were dissolved in a hydrophilic gel. Donor gel with the chemicals was loaded on the skin surface and then the skin was treated with US (300 kHz, 5.2 W/cm(2), 5.4% duty-cycle) and IP (0.32+/-0.03 mA/cm(2)) individually or with US and IP in combination (US+IP). The penetration profiles of the chemicals with a molecular weight of less than 500 were influenced by the presence of an electric charge, the profiles of ionized chemicals for US+IP were the same as profiles for IP, while the penetration flux of a non-ionized chemical synergistically increased with US+IP compared with the individual flux of US and IP. The chemicals with molecular weight of more than 1000 showed synergistic effects with US+IP. The mathematical simulation assuming a bilayer skin model revealed that the synergistic effects were mainly influenced by electroosmosis in the stratum corneum (SC). Therefore the synergistic effects of US+IP was mainly caused by the SC diffusivity of chemicals increased by US and the electroosmotic water flow by IP application.