Many tissues, cells and body fluids possess characteristic lipid composition that can be readily recognized without full resolution and quantitation of individual molecular species. Various chromatographic methods have been adopted for this purpose and are extensively employed in biomedical research. Although lipid profiles are known to change with disease and lipid profiling holds considerable potential for clinical diagnosis, few routines have been established for this purpose. This is partly due to the laborious nature of the simpler methods and the high cost of automated systems. A combination of thin-layer or liquid chromatography with universal detection systems promises to provide more attractive analytical routines for clinical application in the future. At present thin-layer chromatography is the simplest and most rapid qualitative assay for both neutral and polar lipids. Low-temperature gas chromatography is still the method of choice for fatty acid analyses, while high-temperature gas chromatography is eminently suited for quantitative analysis of intact neutral lipids. The availability of the flame ionization and mass detectors now makes high-performance liquid chromatography more useful for profiling both neutral and polar lipids. Combinations of gas or liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry must remain of specialized interest only because of the prohibitive costs of operation.