Scientists previously believed that the skin was an effective barrier to inorganic particles. Damage from mechanical stressors was believed to be the only way to increase its permeability. Recently, however, simpler and more effective methods for increasing skin permeabiltiy have been developed. For example, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been used to slightly damage the surface of skin, causing a time-dependent defect allowing easier penetration of nanoparticles. The UVR’s high energy causes a restructuring of cells, weakening the boundary between the stratum corneum and the epidermal layer. The damage of the skin is typically measured by the transepidermal water loss (TEWL), though it may take 3–5 days for the TEWL to reach its peak value. When the TEWL reaches its highest value, the maximum density of nanoparticles is able to permeate the skin. Studies confirm that UVR damaged skin significantly increases the permeability. The effects of increased permeability after UVR exposure can lead to an increase in the number of particles that permeate the skin. However, the specific permeability of skin after UVR exposure relative to particles of different sizes and materials has not been determined.
Other skin damaging methods used to increase nanoparticle penetration include tape stripping, skin abrasion, and chemical enhancement. Tape stripping is the process in which tape is applied to skin then lifted to remove the top layer of skin. Skin abrasion is done by shaving the top 5-10 micrometers off the surface of the skin. Chemical enhancement is the process in which chemicals such as polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), and oleic acid are applied to the surface of the skin to increase permeability.
Electroporation is the application of short pulses of electric fields on skin and has proven to increase skin permeability. The pulses are high voltage and on the order of milliseconds when applied. Charged molecules penetrate the skin more frequently than neutral molecules after the skin has been exposed to electric field pulses. Results have shown molecules on the order of 100 micrometers to easily permeate electroporated skin.
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