Growth of SCC-13 squamous carcinoma cultures in the presence of retinoids considerably reduced the expression of two differentiation markers, the cellular capability to form cross-linked envelopes, and the enzyme transglutaminase required for cross-linking. A limited survey of retinoids showed that all-trans retinoic acid, 13-cis retinoic acid, and arotinoid Ro 13-6298 were highly effective in the absence of hydrocortisone and were only slightly antagonized by its presence in the medium. In contrast, retinyl acetate, retinol, and retinol bound to its plasma binding protein were quite active in the absence of hydrocortisone but were essentially inactive in its presence. Dexamethasone was also highly effective in antagonizing the suppressive action of retinyl acetate on envelope formation, while the corticosteroid antagonists cortexolone and progesterone were inactive. These results suggest that there are separate pathways, which are differentially regulated by hydrocortisone, for either the metabolism or action of retinol and retinoic acid in SCC-13 cells.