Agricultural workers are encouraged to use sunscreen to decrease the risk of UV-related skin cancer. Our previous studies have shown certain commercial sunscreens to be penetration enhancers. The focus of this project is to determine whether active ingredients in sunscreen formulations (i.e., the UV absorbing components and insect repellants for the sunscreen/bug repellant combinations) also act as dermal penetration enhancers for herbicides in vitro. The total percentages of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) penetrating through hairless mouse skin in 24 h ranged from 54.9 +/- 4.7 for the no sunscreen control to 86.9 +/- 2.5 for padimate-o. Of the active ingredients tested (7.5% octyl methoxycinnamate, 7% octocrylene, 0.6% oxybenzone, 5% homosalate, 5% octyl salicylate, 8% padimate-o, 10% sulisobenzone, and 9.5% and 19% N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide [DEET]), all but octocrylene led to a significant increase in total 2,4-D penetration as compared to the control (P < 0.05), and only octocrylene and oxybenzone did not significantly decrease the corresponding lag time. Octyl salicylate (P < 0.01) and octyl methoxycinnimate (P < 0.05) significantly increased the 3H2O penetration across mouse skin, indicating physical damage to the stratum corneum. Additional studies demonstrated that the penetration enhancement seen across hairless mouse skin also occurred with human skin. Thus, the active ingredients of sunscreen formulations enhance dermal penetration of the moderately lipophilic herbicide 2,4-D.