Penetration of chlorhexidine into human skin

Tarja J. Karpanen, Tony Worthington, Barbara R. Conway, Anthony C. Hilton, Tom S.J. Elliott, Peter A. Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study evaluated a model of skin permeation to determine the depth of delivery of chlorhexidine into full-thickness excised human skin following topical application of 2% (wt/vol) aqueous chlorhexidine digluconate. Skin permeation studies were performed on full-thickness human skin using Franz diffusion cells with exposure to chlorhexidine for 2 min, 30 min, and 24 h. The concentration of chlorhexidine extracted from skin sections was determined to a depth of 1,500 µm following serial sectioning of the skin using a microtome and analysis by high-performance liquid chromatography. Poor penetration of chlorhexidine into skin following 2-min and 30-min exposures to chlorhexidine was observed (0.157 ± 0.047 and 0.077 ± 0.015 µg/mg tissue within the top 100 µm), and levels of chlorhexidine were minimal at deeper skin depths (less than 0.002 µg/mg tissue below 300 µm). After 24 h of exposure, there was more chlorhexidine within the upper 100-µm sections (7.88 ± 1.37 µg/mg tissue); however, the levels remained low (less than 1 µg/mg tissue) at depths below 300 µm. There was no detectable penetration through the full-thickness skin. The model presented in this study can be used to assess the permeation of antiseptic agents through various layers of skin in vitro. Aqueous chlorhexidine demonstrated poor permeation into the deeper layers of the skin, which may restrict the efficacy of skin antisepsis with this agent. This study lays the foundation for further research in adopting alternative strategies for enhanced skin antisepsis in clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3633-3636
Number of pages4
JournalAntimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2008, American Society for Microbiology.


  • skin permeation
  • delivery
  • chlorhexidine
  • full-thickness excised human skin
  • topical application
  • aqueous chlorhexidine digluconate
  • Franz diffusion cells
  • enhanced skin antisepsis


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