Human skin penetration and local effects of topical nano zinc oxide after occlusion and barrier impairment

Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2016 Jul;104:140-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpb.2016.04.022. Epub 2016 Apr 27.


Public health concerns continue to exist over the safety of zinc oxide nanoparticles that are commonly used in sunscreen formulations. In this work, we assessed the effects of two conditions which may be encountered in everyday sunscreen use, occlusion and a compromised skin barrier, on the penetration and local toxicity of two topically applied zinc oxide nanoparticle products. Caprylic/capric triglyceride (CCT) suspensions of commercially used zinc oxide nanoparticles, either uncoated or with a silane coating, were applied to intact and barrier impaired skin of volunteers, without and with occlusion for a period of six hours. The exposure time was chosen to simulate normal in-use conditions. Multiphoton tomography with fluorescence lifetime imaging was used to noninvasively assess zinc oxide penetration and cellular metabolic changes that could be indicative of toxicity. We found that zinc oxide nanoparticles did not penetrate into the viable epidermis of intact or barrier impaired skin of volunteers, without or with occlusion. We also observed no apparent toxicity in the viable epidermis below the application sites. These findings were validated by ex vivo human skin studies in which zinc penetration was assessed by multiphoton tomography with fluorescence lifetime imaging as well as Zinpyr-1 staining and toxicity was assessed by MTS assays in zinc oxide treated skin cryosections. In conclusion, applications of zinc oxide nanoparticles under occlusive in-use conditions to volunteers are not associated with any measurable zinc oxide penetration into, or local toxicity in the viable epidermis below the application site.

Keywords: Barrier impairment; In-use application; Occlusion; Safety; Skin penetration; Sunscreens; Toxicity; Zinc oxide nanoparticles.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Skin Absorption*
  • Zinc Oxide / administration & dosage*


  • Zinc Oxide