Comparison of dermal absorption of zinc from different sunscreen formulations and differing UV exposure based on stable isotope tracing

Sci Total Environ. 2012 Mar 15;420:313-8. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.12.046. Epub 2012 Feb 7.


In a pilot study to determine if zinc (Zn) from zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen can penetrate human skin in vivo, nanoparticles (~30nm) of a stable isotope (52% (68)Zn enrichment) were incorporated into an essentially phytochemical-based formulation and applied to the backs of 3 human subjects twice daily for 5 days during the Southern Hemisphere winter. Blood and urine were collected prior to application and at regular intervals and up to 50 days. As observed in a larger outdoor trial following this pilot study but with a different formulation and with UV exposure: values of (68)Zn in blood continued to increase beyond the 5 day application phase with the highest measurement at 14 days after the first application; variable amounts of the (68)Zn tracer were observed in urine; and the amounts of extra Zn added to blood were small and indicate very low levels of absorption (minimal estimate <0.01% of the applied dose) through the skin. Reasons for differences in absorption detected in the stable isotope trials and previous investigations include: the sensitivity of the stable isotope method; the duration of the investigations; the number of applications of sunscreen formulation; in vitro methods with excised skin; lack of measurement of blood and urine; no skin flexing; and lack of UV exposure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nanoparticles
  • Pilot Projects
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Absorption*
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sunscreening Agents / metabolism*
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / metabolism*
  • Zinc / urine
  • Zinc Isotopes / administration & dosage
  • Zinc Isotopes / metabolism
  • Zinc Isotopes / urine
  • Zinc Oxide / administration & dosage
  • Zinc Oxide / metabolism*


  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Zinc Isotopes
  • Zinc
  • Zinc Oxide