2004 Toxicol In Vitro. 2004 Jun;18(3):231-43.
VTB-Skin Biochemistry, Henkel KGaA, Building Z33, Henkelstrasse 67, D-40191, Duesseldorf, Germany. [email protected]

In vitro skin irritation: facts and future. State of the art review of mechanisms and models.

The skin is the main target tissue for exogenous noxes, protecting us from harmful environmental hazards, UV-irradiation and endogenous water loss. It is composed of three layers, whereas the outermost epidermis is a squamous epithelium that mainly consists of keratinocytes. These cells execute a terminal differentiation, which finally results in the assembly of the stratum corneum. This layer, consisting of cornified keratinocytes, is an effective barrier against a vast number of substances. Apart of this, keratinocytes play crucial roles in the immune surveillance and the initiation, modulation and regulation of inflammation in the epidermis. Regarding cutaneous inflammatory reactions, skin irritation is one of the most common adverse effect in humans. For reasons of human safety assessment new chemicals are still evaluated for irritant potentials by application to animals followed by visible changes such as erythema and oedema. Testing for skin irritation in animals potentially cause them pain and discomfort. Furthermore, the results are not always predictive for those found in humans. In order to replace animal testing and to improve the prediction of irritants, the cosmetic and toiletry industry, in Europe represented by Colipa, develops and uses several alternative in vitro test systems. In this respect, the use of in vitro reconstructed organotypic skin equivalents are mostly favored, because of their increasingly close resemblance to human skin. Due to ethical and scientific questions and on account of the 7th amendment of the European Council Directive 76/768/EEC, the authors see the requirement to drive the development of alternative tests for irritants. Therefore, this article centres on cosmetic ingredients and provides the readership an overview of the state of art of cellular mechanisms of skin irritation and summarizes the results of the commonly used skin equivalents to evaluate irritation in vitro.