AbstractNanoparticles can improve topical drug delivery: size, surface properties and flexibility of polymer nanoparticles are defining its interaction with the skin. Only few studies have explored skin penetration for one series of structurally related polymer particles with systematic alteration of material composition. Here, a series of rigid poly[acrylonitrile-co-(N-vinyl pyrrolidone)] model nanoparticles stably loaded with Nile Red or Rhodamin B, respectively, was comprehensively studied for biocompatibility and functionality. Surface properties were altered by varying the molar content of hydrophilic NVP from 0 to 24.1% and particle size ranged from 35 to 244 nm. Whereas irritancy and genotoxicity were not revealed, lipophilic and hydrophilic nanoparticles taken up by keratinocytes affected cell viability. Skin absorption of the particles into viable skin ex vivo was studied using Nile Red as fluorescent probe. Whilst an intact stratum corneum efficiently prevented penetration, almost complete removal of the horny layer allowed nanoparticles of smaller size and hydrophilic particles to penetrate into viable epidermis and dermis.