Studies of skin antisepsis and enhanced penetration of chlorhexidine

  • Tarja J. Kärpänen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Current evidence-based guidelines recommend that 2% (w/v) chlorhexidine digluconate (CHG), preferentially in 70% (v/v) isopropyl alcohol (IIPA), is used for skin antisepsis prior to incision of the skin. In this current study, the antimicrobial efficacy of CHG, six essential oils [tea tree oil (TTO), thymol, eucalyptus oil (EO), juniper oil, lavender oil and citronella] and novel benzylidenecarboxamidrazone and thiosemicarbazone compounds were determined against a panel of microorganisms commonly associated with skin infection (Staphylococcus epidermidis, S. aureus, meticillin-resistant S. aureus, Propionibacterium acnes, Acinetobacter spp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans) The results demonstrated synergistic activity of CHG in combination with EO against biofilm cultures of S. epidermidis, with significantly reduced concentrations of CHG and EO required to inhibit biofilm growth compared to CHG or EO alone. Skin permeation of CHG was subsequently investigated using an in vitro human skin model (Franz cell) and the penetration profile was determined by serial sectioning of the full thickness human skin. Two percent (w/v) CHG in aqueous solution and in 70% (v/v) IPA demonstrated poor skin permeation; however, the skin permeation was significantly enhanced in combination with 5% - 50% (v/v) EO. Detectable levels of CHG did not permeate through full thickness skin in 24 h. Skin permeation of 2% (w/v) CHG in 70% (v/v) IPA in the presence of 10% (v/v) EO was subsequently studied. The results demonstrated a significantly enhanced skin penetration of CHG after a 2 min application, with CHG detected at significant levels to a depth of 600 m with CHG in combination with EO and IPA compared to 100 m with IPA alone. Combination antisepsis comprising CHG and EO may be beneficial for skin antisepsis prior to invasive procedures to reduce the number of microorganisms on and within the skin due to enhanced skin penetration of CHG and improved efficacy against S. epidermidis in a biofilm mode of growth.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Worthington (Supervisor), Barbara R Conway (Supervisor) & Peter Lambert (Supervisor)


  • skin antisepsis
  • penetration of chlorhexidine

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