Recent studies have demonstrated that topical application of glycerol on intact skin does not affect its optical scattering properties. Investigators from our research group recently revisited the use of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) as an agent with optical clearing potential. We address the use of optical clearing to enhance quantitation of subsurface fluorescence emission. We employed both in vitro and in vivo model systems to study the effect of topical DMSO application on fluorescence emission. Our in vitro experiments performed on a tissue-simulating phantom suggest that DMSO-mediated optical clearing enables enhanced characterization of subsurface fluorophores. With topical DMSO application, a marked increase in fluorescence emission was observed. After 30 min, the fluorescence signal at the DMSO-treated site was 9× greater than the contralateral saline-treated site. This ratio increased to 13× at 105 min after agent application. In summary, DMSO is an effective optical clearing agent for improved fluorescence emission quantitation and warrants further study in preclinical in vivo studies. Based on outcomes from previous clinical studies on the toxicity profile of DMSO, we postulate that clinical application of DMSO as an optical clearing agent, can be performed safely, although further study is warranted. © 2010 World Scientific Publishing Company.