Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology (SJST) (Aug 2009)

An overview of skin penetration enhancers: penetration enhancing activity, skin irritation potential and mechanism of action

  • Sarunyoo Songkro

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 31, no. 3
pp. 299 – 321


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Transdermal drug delivery has attracted considerable attention over the past 2-3 decades in regard of its many potentialadvantages. However, the role of the skin as a protective barrier renders skin absorption of most drugs problematic. Therefore,skin penetration enhancers are frequently used in the field of transdermal drug delivery in order to reversibly reduce thebarrier function of the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin. To date, a wide range of chemical compounds havebeen shown to enhance the skin penetration of therapeutic drugs. This review presents a critical account of the most commonlyused chemical penetration enhancers (fatty acids and surfactants), and some newer classes of chemical enhancers (terpenes,polymers, monoolein, oxazolidinones), with emphasis on their efficacy, mechanism of action, and skin irritation potential. Thisreview also discusses the traditional and more recently developed methods for the screening and evaluation of chemical penetration enhancers, and addresses the continuing problems in the rational selection of a chemical penetration enhancer for a specific drug to be delivered via the transdermal route.