The purpose of the present study was to develop a reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) assay for quantifying four common sunscreen agents, namely 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone, 2-ethylhexyl-p-methoxycinnamate, 2-ethylhexylsalicylate (octylsalicylate) and salicylic acid 3,3,5-trimethcyclohexyl ester (homosalate) in a range of biological matrices. This assay was further applied to study the skin penetration and systemic absorption of sunscreen filters after topical application to human volunteers. Separation was achieved utilizing a Symmetry C(18) column with methanol-water as the mobile phase. The assay permits analysis of the sunscreen agents in biological fluids, including bovine serum albumin (BSA) solution, plasma and urine, and in human epidermis. The assay was linear (r2 > 0.99) with minimum detectable limits of 0.8 ng for oxybenzone, 0.3 ng for octylmethoxycinnamate, and 2 ng for homosalate and octylsalicylate. The inter- and intra-day variation for the four sunscreens was less than 3% at the upper end of the linear range and less than 6% at the lower end. Recoveries of sunscreens from plasma, 4% (w/v) BSA solution and epidermal membranes were within the range of 91-104%. Recoveries from urine of the four sunscreens, and oxybenzone with its metabolites were more than 86%. Up to approximately 1% of the applied dose of oxybenzone and its metabolites was detected in the urine. Appreciable amounts were also detected in the stratum corneum through tape stripping. The HPLC assay and extraction procedures developed are sensitive, simple, rapid, accurate and reproducible. Results from the preliminary clinical study demonstrate significant penetration of all sunscreen agents into the skin, and oxybenzone and metabolites across the skin.