Measurements of dermal uptake of nicotine directly from air and clothing

Indoor Air. 2017 Mar;27(2):427-433. doi: 10.1111/ina.12327. Epub 2016 Sep 29.


In this preliminary study, we have investigated whether dermal uptake of nicotine directly from air or indirectly from clothing can be a meaningful exposure pathway. Two participants wearing only shorts and a third participant wearing clean cotton clothes were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), generated by mechanically "smoking" cigarettes, for three hours in a chamber while breathing clean air from head-enveloping hoods. The average nicotine concentration (420 μg/m3 ) was comparable to the highest levels reported for smoking sections of pubs. Urine samples were collected immediately before exposure and 60 hour post-exposure for bare-skinned participants. For the clothed participant, post-exposure urine samples were collected for 24 hour. This participant then entered the chamber for another three-hour exposure wearing a hood and clothes, including a shirt that had been exposed for five days to elevated nicotine levels. The urine samples were analyzed for nicotine and two metabolites-cotinine and 3OH-cotinine. Peak urinary cotinine and 3OH-cotinine concentrations for the bare-skinned participants were comparable to levels measured among non-smokers in hospitality environments before smoking bans. The amount of dermally absorbed nicotine for each bare-skinned participant was conservatively estimated at 570 μg, but may have been larger. For the participant wearing clean clothes, uptake was ~20 μg, and while wearing a shirt previously exposed to nicotine, uptake was ~80 μg. This study demonstrates meaningful dermal uptake of nicotine directly from air or from nicotine-exposed clothes. The findings are especially relevant for children in homes with smoking or vaping.

Keywords: biomonitoring; e-cigarettes; exposure pathway; indoor environment; smoking; vaping.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Clothing*
  • Cotinine / urine
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nicotine / analysis*
  • Nicotine / pharmacokinetics
  • Nicotine / urine
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Absorption
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Nicotine
  • Cotinine