What determines skin sensitization potency-myths, maybes and realities. Part 1. The 500 molecular weight cut-off

Contact Dermatitis. 2013 Jan;68(1):32-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2012.02160.x. Epub 2012 Aug 25.


Background: It is widely accepted that there is a molecular weight (MW) cut-off of 500, such that single chemicals with MWs higher than 500 cannot be skin sensitizers. If true, this could serve as a useful principle for designing non-sensitizing chemicals.

Objectives: To assess whether the 500 MW cut-off is a myth or a reality.

Methods: A database of 699 chemicals tested for skin sensitization in guinea pigs or mice was analysed to establish the number of tested chemicals with MW > 500, and to establish whether any of these were sensitizers.

Results: Only 13 (2%) of the 699 chemicals in the database have MW > 500. Of the 13 tested compounds with MW > 500 in the database, five are sensitizers and eight are non-sensitizers.

Conclusions: The 500 MW cut-off for skin sensitization is a myth, probably derived from the widespread misconception that ability to efficiently penetrate the stratum corneum is a key determinant of sensitization potency. The scarcity of sensitizers with MW > 500 simply reflects the general scarcity of chemicals with MW > 500.

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / chemistry*
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / immunology*
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Mice
  • Molecular Weight*


  • Allergens