The depth of light penetration into highly scattering tissues can be improved by the application of biocompatible and osmotically active chemical agents. We compare the dynamics of optical clearing of tissue by the topical application of glycerol and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) using optical coherence tomography (OCT). It is demonstrated experimentally that both agents can largely improve the OCT imaging depth for porcine stomach tissue. During a period of approximately 20 to 30 min after the application of glycerol image contrast is also enhanced. This enhancement disappears over time. Such enhancement of image contrast is not observed with DMSO. Glycerol causes a higher degree of dehydration of the tissue than DMSO does. We suggest that these phenomena are caused by a two-stage diffusion of the chemicals. The first stage of diffusion is from the top tissue to the intercellular space, and the second is into the cell matrix. During the first stage, the imaging contrast could be improved by dehydration. © 2004 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.