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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 13, 2014

Biology of percutaneous penetration

  • Nicholas R. Blickenstaff EMAIL logo , Garrett Coman , Collin M. Blattner , Rosa Andersen and Howard I. Maibach


Background: Percutaneous penetration is a passive process that can occur following skin exposure to chemicals used in agriculture, industry, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and in the household. Once a penetrant is absorbed into the skin it may cause a local reaction or enter systemic circulation to produce widespread effects. Improved understanding of the skin barrier and biological aspects that impede absorption of topical substances is essential for advancing the fields of dermatotoxicology and dermatopharmacology as they pertain to percutaneous penetration.

Methods: Pubmed search results for “percutaneous penetration”, “absorption”, “stratum corneum”, “xenobiotics”, “skin factors”, “decontamination”, and “transdermal” were reviewed from 1965 to 2014. Relevant articles discussing the influence of biological factors on percutaneous penetration of topical substances were included.

Results: Absorption of a topical substance across the skin is most notably influenced by concentration, contact duration, frequency, and the surface area exposed. The interplay between these factors, along with skin biology and the physiochemical properties of the penetrant, can lead to enhanced percutaneous penetration.

Conclusion: Percutaneous penetration is a highly complicated and dynamic process influenced by numerous skin and environmental factors. Although research over the last few decades has provided plenty of new insights to improve our understanding of percutaneous penetration, many areas lack clarity due to conflicting data.

Corresponding author: Nicholas Blickenstaff, Department of Dermatology, University of California San Francisco, 90 Medical Center Way, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA, Phone: +208-869-7193, Fax: +415-753-5304, E-mail:


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Received: 2014-7-20
Accepted: 2014-8-21
Published Online: 2014-9-13
Published in Print: 2014-8-1

©2014 by De Gruyter

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