The use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide (ZnO-NP) in sunscreens and other cosmetic products has raised public health concerns. The two key issues are the extent of exposure to ZnO-NP and the likely hazard after the application of ZnO-NP in sunscreen and cosmetic products to humans in vivo. Our aims were to assess exposure by the extent of ZnO-NP penetration into the viable epidermis and hazard by changes in the viable epidermal redox state for a number of topical products. Of particular interest is the role of the particle coating, formulation used, and the presence of any enhancers. Multiphoton tomography with fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (MPT-FLIM) was used to simultaneously observe ZnO-NP penetration and potential metabolic changes within the viable epidermis of human volunteers after topical application of various ZnO-NP products. Coated and uncoated ZnO-NP remained in the superficial layers of the SC and in the skin furrows. We observed limited penetration of coated ZnO-NP dispersed in a water-in-oil emulsion formulation, which was predominantly localized adjacent to the skin furrow. However, the presence of ZnO-NP in the viable epidermis did not alter the metabolic state or morphology of the cells. In summary, our data suggest that some limited penetration of coated and uncoated ZnO-NP may occur into viable stratum granulosum epidermis adjacent to furrows, but that the extent is not sufficient to affect the redox state of those viable cells.
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