The purpose of this study was to develop a new model for the induction of chronic irritant contact dermatitis, which would reflect well the conditions of daily practice. Various weak irritant agents were tested for irritating potency on the skin and the sensitivity of transepidermal water loss (TEWL) measurements in the detection of early skin changes was also studied. 10 widely used surfactants and 1 solubilizer were applied to the skin of the forearms of healthy volunteers in aqueous solutions of 12.5 millimoles/l for 45 min twice daily for 3 weeks. The effect on the skin was evaluated daily by means of TEWL measurements and by a visual scoring system. Each solution caused an increase in TEWL value over time due to the cumulative irritating action on the epidermal barrier. This increase in TEWL was different for the various solutions, resulting in different mean TEWL values on the last day of the experiment. Thus, it was possible to rank the agents according to irritating potency. This ranking order was the same in almost every individual and remained constant during the 3 weeks. In comparison with the visual scoring system, the TEWL measurements were more sensitive in the detection of early changes in the skin.
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