Transdermal drug delivery offers numerous advantages over conventional routes of administration; however, poor permeation of most drugs across the skin barrier constitutes a serious limitation of this methodology. One of the approaches used to enlarge the number of transdermally-applicable drugs uses permeation enhancers. These compounds promote drug permeation through the skin by a reversible decrease of the barrier resistance. Enhancers can act on the stratum corneum intracellular keratin, influence desmosomes, modify the intercellular lipid domains or alter the solvent nature of the stratum corneum. Even though, hundreds of substances have been identified as permeation enhancers to date, yet our understanding of the structureactivity relationships is limited. In general, enhancers can be divided into two large groups: small polar solvents, e.g. ethanol, propylene glycol, dimethylsulfoxide and amphiphilic compounds containing a polar head and a hydrophobic chain, e.g. fatty acids and alcohols, 1-dodecylazepan-2-one (Azone), 2-nonyl-1,3- dioxolane (SEPA 009), and dodecyl-2-dimethylaminopropanoate (DDAIP). In this review we have focused on structure-activity relationships of amphiphilic permeation enhancers, including the properties of the hydrophobic chains, e.g. length, unsaturation, and branching, as well as the polar heads characteristics, e.g. hydrogen bonding ability, lipophilicity, and size. We present over 180 examples of enhancers with different polar head to illustrate the structural requirements and the possible role of the polar head. We have given an overview of the methods used for investigation of the mechanisms of permeation enhancement, namely differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), infrared (IR) and Raman spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and future perspectives in this field. Furthermore, biodegradability and chirality of the enhancers are discussed.