American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 217–224 | Cite as

Assessment and Clinical Implications of Absorption of Sunscreens Across Skin

  • Heather A. E. BensonEmail author
Leading Article


Topical sunscreen products are widely used for protection of the skin against the harmful effects of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Sunscreen agents are incorporated into many everyday-use cosmetics as well as so called ‘beach’ products. An ideal sunscreen product will provide effective protection against UV radiation with minimal skin absorption of the active ingredients.

There is now clear evidence that a common sunscreen chemical, benzophenone-3, is absorbed systemically following topical application to the skin. Other more lipophilic sunscreens are absorbed into the skin, but penetration to deeper tissues and the cutaneous circulation appears to be limited. However, the extent to which sunscreens that are absorbed into the stratum corneum are absorbed to deeper tissues and the systemic circulation over time is currently unknown. The formulation vehicle in which the sunscreen is presented to the skin has a significant effect on absorption into and through the skin. Alcohol-based formulations appear to increase sunscreen absorption. In addition, some sunscreen chemicals may enhance the skin absorption of other sunscreens when applied in combination. Clearly, further research into the influence of sunscreen and formulation properties on skin absorption could lead to optimal design of sunscreen products with respect to efficacy and minimizing absorption.

Despite the extensive use of sunscreen products, there have been few reports of adverse effects, and these tend to be limited to acute dermatitis and allergies. Some recent reports have raised concerns that sunscreen chemicals may damage tissues, particularly in the presence of UV radiation. Further research into the toxicity of sunscreens is urgently required. Given the information currently available and the importance of protecting the skin against sun damage, there is no clear justification for restricting the use of sunscreen products at this time.


Stratum Corneum Skin Penetration Petroleum Jelly Receptor Phase Skin Absorption 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Society AC. URL 2000Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Federal Register Sunscreen drug products for over-the-counter human use; Tentative final monograph; Proposed rule. Federal Register 1993 May 12: 28194–28302Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Federal Register Sunscreen drug products for over-the-counter human use; Amendment to the tentative final monograph. Federal Register 1996; 61 Sep 16: 48645Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Hayden C.G., Roberts M.S., Benson H.A. Sunscreens: are Australians getting the good oil? Aust N Z J Med 1998; 28 (5): 639–646PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sayre R.M., Kollias N., Roberts R.L., et al. Physical sunscreens. J Soc Cosmetic Chemists 1990; 41: 103–109Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Shaath N.A. On the theory of ultraviolet absorption by sunscreen chemicals. J Soc Cosmetic Chemists 1987; 82: 193–207Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hayden C.G.J., Benson H.A.E., Roberts M.S. Sunscreens: Toxicological aspects. In: Roberts M.S., Walters K.A., editors. Dermal absorption and toxicity assessment. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1998: 537–599Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Watkinson A.C., Brain K.R., Walters K.A., et al. Prediction of the percutaneous penetration of ultra-violet filters used in sunscreen formulations. Int J Cosmet Sci 1992; 14 (sn265): 265–275PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Agrapidis P.L., Nash R.A., Shaath N.A. Effect of solvents on the ultraviolet absorbance of sunscreens. J Soc Cosmet Chem 1987; 38 (209): 209–221Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hayden C.G., Roberts M.S., Benson H.A. Systemic absorption of sunscreen after topical application. Lancet 1997; 350 (9081): 863–864PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hany J., Nagel R. Detection of sunscreen agents in human breast milk. Deutsche Lebensmittel-Rundschau 1995; 91: 341–345Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Feldman R., Maibach H.I. Absorption of some organic compounds through the skin in man. J Invest Dermatol 1970; 54: 399–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Arancibia A., Borie G., Cornwell E., et al. Pharmacokinetic study on the percutaneous absorption of p-aminobenzoic acid from 3 sunscreen preparations. Farmaco Ed Prat 1981; 36 (357): 357–65Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Dupuis D., Rougier A., Roguet R., et al. In vivo relationship between horny layer reservoir effect and percutaneous absorption in human and rat. J Invest Dermatol 1984; 82 (357): 353–356PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dupuis D., Rougier A., Roguet R., et al. The measurement of the stratum corneum reservoir: a simple method to predict the influence of vehicles on in vivo percutaneous absorption. Br J Dermatol 1986; 115 (2): 233–238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Dupuis D., Rougier A., Lotte C., et al. An original predictive method for in vivo percutaneous absorption studies. Acta Derm Venereol Suppl. 1987; 134: 9–21Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Treffel P., Gabard B. Skin penetration and sun protection factor of ultra-violet filters from two vehicles. Pharm Res 1996; 13 (5): 770–774PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Bronaugh R.L., Stewart R.F., Congdon E.R. Methods for in vitro percutaneous absorption studies. II. Animal models for human skin. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1982; 62 (3): 481–488PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bronaugh R.L., Stewart R.F. Methods for in vitro percutaneous absorption studies III: hydrophobic compounds. J Pharm Sci 1984; 73 (9): 1255–1258PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Dal Pozza A., Liggeri E., Delucca C., et al. Prediction of skin permeation of highly lipophilic compounds; in vitro model with a modified receptor phase. Int J Pharmaceutics 1991; 70: 219–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Jiang R., Roberts M.S., Collins D.M., et al. Absorption of sunscreens across human skin: an evaluation of commercial products for children and adults. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1999; 48 (4): 635–637PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hagedorn-Leweke U., Lippold B.C. Absorption of sunscreens and other compounds through human skin in vivo: derivation of a method to predict maximum fluxes. Pharm Res 1995; 12 (9): 1354–1360PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Benech F., Berthelot B., Wegrich P., et al. A comparative study of in vitro skin models: percutaneous absorption of sunscreens on pig and human skin. In: Brain K.R., James V.J., Walters K.A., editors. Prediction of percutaneous penetration. Cardiff: STS, 1995: C68Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Feldmann R.J., Maibach H.I. Absorption of some organic compounds through the skin in man. J Invest Dermatol 1970; 54 (5): 399–404PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Walters K.A., Brain K.R., Howes D., et al. Percutaneous penetration of octyl salicylate from representative sunscreen formulations through human skin in vitro. Food Chem Toxicol 1997; 35 (12): 1219–1225PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Bronaugh R.L., Stewart R.F. Methods for in vitro percutaneous absorption studies. VI: preparation of the barrier layer. J Pharm Sci 1986; 75 (5): 487–491PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Gupta V.K., Zatz J.L., Rerek M. Percutaneous absorption of sunscreens through micro- yucatan pig skin in vitro. Pharm Res 1999; 16 (10): 1602–1607PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Jiang R., Benson H.A., Cross S.E., et al. In vitro human epidermal and polyethylene membrane penetration and retention of the sunscreen benzophenone-3 from a range of solvents. Pharm Res 1998; 15 (12): 1863–1868PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Benson H.A.E., Nocente M.L., Roberts M.S. Penetration of benzophenone-3 through human epidermis from a range of topical formulations. J Pharm Pharmacol 1999; 51 Suppl.: 185Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Nakai J.S., Chu I., Li-Muller A., et al. Effect of environmental conditions on the penetration of benzene through human skin. J Toxicol Environ Health 1997; 51 (5): 447–462PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Morgan T.M., Reed B.L., Finnin B.C. Enhanced skin permeation of sex hormones with novel topical spray vehicles. J Pharm Sci 1998; 87 (10): 1213–1218PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    US National Cancer Institute Sunscreens. Class study report; Contract No. NO1- CP-71082 (7/89). Rockville MD: Tracor Technological Resources Inc., 1989Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Knowland J., McKenzie E.A., McHugh P.J., et al. Sunlight-induced mutagenicity of a common sunscreen ingredient [see comments]. FEBS Lett 1993; 324 (3): 309–313PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Nishi J., Ogura R., Sugiyama M., et al. Involvement of active oxygen in lipid peroxide radical reaction of epidermal homogenate following ultraviolet light exposure. J Invest Dermatol 1991; 97 (1): 115–119PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Norrins N.L. Free radical formation in the skin following exposure to ultraviolet light. J Invest Dermatol 1962; 39: 445–448Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Gasparro F.P. The molecular basis of UV-induced mutagenicity of sunscreens. FEBS Lett 1993; 336 (1): 184–185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Gasparro F.P. UV-induced photoproducts of para-aminobenzoid acid. Photodermatology 1985; 2: 151–157PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Gasparro F.P. PABA: friend or foe [editorial]? Photo Dermatol 1986; 3 (2): 61–63Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel Final report on the safety assessment of benzophenones -1, -3, -4, -5, -9, and -11. J Am Coll Toxicol 1983; 2: 35–77Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Patel N.P., Highton A., Moy R.L. Properties of topical sunscreen formulations. A review. J Dermatol Surg Oncol 1992; 18 (4): 316–320PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    National Toxicology Program Draft NTP technical report on the toxicity studies of 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone in F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice (dose fed and dermal studies). NTP Toxicol 1991: 21Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Xu C., Parsons P.G. Cell cycle delay, mitochondrial stress and uptake of hydrophobic cations induced by sunscreens in cultured human cells. Photochem Photobiol 1999; 69 (5): 611–616PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Chou H.J., Yates R.L., et al. Determination of 2-ethylhexyl 4-(N-methyl-Nnitrosamino) benzoate in commercial sunscreens and cosmetic products. J AOAC Int 1995; 78 (6): 1378–1383PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Dunkel V.C., San R.H., et al. Evaluation of the mutagenicity of an N-nitroso contaminant of the sunscreen Padimate O: N-nitroso-N-methyl-p-aminobenzoic acid, 2-ethylhexyl ester (NPABAO). Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis 1992; 20 (3): 188–198PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Loeppky R.N., Hastings,et al. Nitrosation of tertiary aromatic amines related to susncreen ingredients. IARC Sci Publ 1991; 105: 244–252PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Westin J.B., Speigelhalder, et al. Assay of suntan lotions for the carcinogenic, nonvolatile N-nitrosamine N-nitrosodiethanolamine. Cancer Lett 1990; 50 (2): 157–160PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Chu I., Dick D., Bronaugh R., et al. Skin reservoir formation and bioavailability of dermally administered chemicals in hairless guinea pigs. Food Chem Toxicol 1996; 34 (3): 267–276PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations