Dermal uptake: an important pathway of human exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances?

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been produced and used in a broad range of products since the 1950s. This class, comprising of thousands of chemicals, have been used in many different products ranging from firefighting foam to personal care products and clothes. Even at relatively low levels of exposure, PFAS have been linked to various health effects in humans such as lower birth weight, increased serum cholesterol levels, and reduced antibody response to vaccination. Human biomonitoring data demonstrates ubiquitous exposure to PFAS across all age groups. This has been attributed to PFAS-contaminated water and dietary intake, as well as inadvertent ingestion of indoor dust for adults and toddlers. In utero exposure and breast milk have been indicated as important exposure pathways for foetuses and nursing infants. More recently, PFAS have been identified in a wide range of products, many of which come in contact with skin (e.g., cosmetics and fabrics). Despite this, few studies have evaluated dermal uptake as a possible route for human exposure and little is known about the dermal absorption potential of different PFAS. This article critically investigates the current state-of-knowledge on human exposure to PFAS, highlighting the lack of dermal exposure data. Additionally, the different approaches for dermal uptake assessment studies are discussed and the available literature on human dermal absorption of PFAS is critically reviewed and compared to other halogenated contaminants, e.g., brominated flame retardants and its implications for dermal exposure to PFAS. Finally, the urgent need for dermal permeation and uptake studies for a wide range of PFAS and their precursors is highlighted and recommendations for future research to advance the current understanding of human dermal exposure to PFAS are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119478
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date16 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 860665 (PERFORCE3 Innovative Training Network).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • PFAS
  • Dermal exposure
  • 3D-human skin equivalents
  • Absorption
  • Bioavailability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology


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