The human epidermis contains endogenous retinoids [retinol (vitamin A) and retinyl esters] and carotenoids (mostly β-carotene). Previous studies in the mouse have shown that the enzymes involved in retinoid metabolism are present in the epidermis. In this study, we wanted to assess the skin penetration and metabolism of topical retinoids in the human. To do this, fresh surgically excised human abdominal skin was mounted on Franz perfusion cells. Topical retinoic acid, retinal, retinol and retinyl palmitate were applied at 2.5 mg/cm2 in oil-in-water creams containing 0.05% retinoids on the donor compartment, while the receptor compartment was filled with culture medium. The skin was incubated for 24 h at 37°C, then epidermal retinoid concentrations were determined by HPLC. The same experiment was performed with mouse back skin mounted on Franz cells. Finally, topical retinoids were applied on the back of hairless mice for 24 h; then the mice were sacrificed and retinoid concentrations were assayed in the epidermis. In all three models, retinol and its esters were found to be endogenous, as was the case in previous studies in the mouse in vivo. The four applied retinoids penetrated well into the epidermis. Topical retinoic acid did not increase endogenous retinoids, whereas the latter were greatly increased following topical retinal in the mouse. Retinal was also metabolized into retinoic acid, unlike topical retinol and retinyl palmitate, which only increased endogenous retinoids. Topical retinal and retinol did undergo a higher metabolism in both mouse models than in human skin. In summary, the penetration and metabolism patterns of topical retinoids were quite similar in the two mouse models used, indicating that the Franz cells appear to be a good model to predict in vivo metabolism of topical retinoids. When applying this concept to our results obtained in Franz cells with human skin, we conclude that topical retinol and retinal load human skin with both storage and functional vitamin A.

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