Metal oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens provide broad-spectrum ultraviolet protection to skin. All studies to assess dermal penetration of nanoparticles have unanimously concluded that the overwhelming majority of nanoparticles remain on the outer surface of the skin. However, possibly due to many different experimental protocols in use, conclusions over the potential penetration to viable skin are mixed. Here, we review several factors that may influence experimental results for dermal penetration including the species studied (human, or animal model), size and coating of the metal oxide nanoparticles, composition of the sunscreen formulation, site of sunscreen application, dose and number of applications, duration of the study, types of biological samples analysed, methods for analysing samples, exposure to UV and skin flexing. Based on this information, we suggest an appropriate research agenda involving international collaboration that maximises the potential for dermal absorption of nanoparticles, and their detection, under normal conditions of sunscreen use by humans. If results from this research agenda indicate no absorption is observed, then concerns over adverse health effects from the dermal absorption of nanoparticles in sunscreens may be allayed.