Penetration enhancers

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2004 Mar 27;56(5):603-18. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2003.10.025.


One long-standing approach for improving transdermal drug delivery uses penetration enhancers (also called sorption promoters or accelerants) which penetrate into skin to reversibly decrease the barrier resistance. Numerous compounds have been evaluated for penetration enhancing activity, including sulphoxides (such as dimethylsulphoxide, DMSO), Azones (e.g. laurocapram), pyrrolidones (for example 2-pyrrolidone, 2P), alcohols and alkanols (ethanol, or decanol), glycols (for example propylene glycol, PG, a common excipient in topically applied dosage forms), surfactants (also common in dosage forms) and terpenes. Many potential sites and modes of action have been identified for skin penetration enhancers; the intercellular lipid matrix in which the accelerants may disrupt the packing motif, the intracellular keratin domains or through increasing drug partitioning into the tissue by acting as a solvent for the permeant within the membrane. Further potential mechanisms of action, for example with the enhancers acting on desmosomal connections between corneocytes or altering metabolic activity within the skin, or exerting an influence on the thermodynamic activity/solubility of the drug in its vehicle are also feasible, and are also considered in this review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic / adverse effects
  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic / chemistry
  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic / pharmacology*
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Humans
  • Skin Absorption / drug effects*
  • Skin Absorption / physiology


  • Adjuvants, Pharmaceutic