Our skin is the heaviest organ in our body and could cover an average bedroom – wow! More importantly it is comprised of cells just like every other organ in our body that move, regrow and absorb.

Skin Does Absorb Chemicals

Let’s stop here and dispel the myth that what we put on our skin from water to lotions does not get absorbed. Cosmetic companies tell us that…of course because they have an agenda to make a profit. But study after study has data that demonstrates a different truth (see the links below). Studies show we absorb around 64% of the waters, products and chemicals our skin comes in contact with.

These are some determining factors for how much is absorbed:

  • Skin integrity – Is it damaged? Or without openings or weakened areas?
  • Location of exposure – What is the thickness of the area of skin? How warm is the skin temperature?
  • Physical and chemical properties – How easily can it penetrate? What are the size of the molecules?
  • Concentration of a substance on the skin surface – How often are you applying it? Exposing yourself to it? How many different products are you applying?
  • Duration of exposure – How long are you keeping the product on your skin? How often do you reapply it?
  • The surface area of skin exposed to substance – How much of your body are you applying the product to?

American Journal of Public Health

“We found that skin absorption contributed from 29-91 per cent of the total dose, averaging 64 per cent.”

“Occupational and environmental exposures to chemicals are major potential routes of exposure for direct skin toxicity and for systemic absorption.”

“Most chemicals are readily absorbed through the skin and can cause other health effects and/or contribute to the dose absorbed by inhalation of the chemical from the air.”

The Basics of Skin Absorption

Knowledge builds understanding – let us create a short overview to help you see the logic behind our researched concerns.  

If you talk about skin layers individually you could create an argument that the skin does not absorb because each plays a defensive role in not letting outside pollutants and chemicals into the body. But we all know people who get allergic reactions, blisters, redness, dryness or even cancers due to exposure to harmful substances. That’s simple proof of absorption.

There are areas that are more sensitive and absorbable. The thickness of the three skin layers (epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue) varies throughout the body. The delicate skin around your eyes is as thin as a few sheets of paper yet the soles of your feet are about as thick as a pencil eraser. It is primarily the molecule size of the substance that determines how much it will be absorbed.

Here’s a really easy way to visualize the process from the Centers for Disease Prevention. According to their studies “research has revealed that skin absorption occurs via diffusion, the process whereby molecules spread from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration”.  

Figure 1: Intercellular lipid pathwaylipid-pathway

As shown in Figure 1, the stratum corneum consists of cells known as corneocytes. The spaces between the corneocytes are filled with substances such as fats, oils, or waxes known as lipids. Some chemicals can penetrate through these lipid-filled intercellular spaces through diffusion.

Figure 2: Transcellular permeation
transcelulat-permeationAs shown in Figure 2, another pathway for chemicals to be absorbed into and through the skin is transcellular, or cell-to-cell, permeation whereby molecules diffuse directly through the corneocytes.


Figure 3: Through the appendages (hair follicles, glands)hair-pathway

As shown in Figure 3, the third pathway for diffusion of chemicals into and through the skin is skin appendages (i.e., hair follicles and glands). This pathway is usually insignificant because the surface area of the appendages is very small compared to the total skin area. However, very slowly permeating chemicals may employ this pathway during the initial stage of absorption.

The design of cosmetics is to benefit the outer layer of skin— absorption into the body would waste the effects of these products. On the flip side, the design of skin care products is to penetrate the skin. The antioxidants in skin care won’t do their job if they don’t reach and stay in the deeper layers of skin. This is why many products contain both oils, water and additives that enhance penetration – to get as far into the skin as possible. It’s these additives and the depth they penetrate that should cause you to worry. Deeper absorption by skin = deeper toxic substances in your blood stream and body tissues.

Everyone is different, has different skin thicknesses, and has a different rate of cell-to-cell transfer. Our bodies are created to defend from harmful substances, and can handle the extra overload if it is occasional.

Problem is, as you can see when you look at labels, more and more of our products are containing similar chemicals. We are exposing our bodies to harmful chemicals when we wash our face, our hair, our hands; when we rub lotion in our legs, our arms, under our eyes, on our faces; when we put on deodorant, spray perfume, use hairspray, apply gels, and when we show, drink, and wash with the water in our environment.

Too much exposure = overtaxed immune system = inflammation = disease and damage.

A lot. We know because it was overwhelming for us, too, to have so many harmful products that we Really Liked Using. Knowledge gives you the control and the means to determine what your extent of exposure will be. We will give you the options for products we tested and their results, recipes for making the same products, and links to some companies that make “safe” products.         

In the next articles we will cover:

What products are added to our cosmetics, toiletries, soaps, deodorants etc. and what are their effects in our body.

FAQ – freckles, wrinkles, under eye circles, increasing deeper absorption, essential oils, suntanning, etc.

What products are EFFECTIVE and safe to buy, use, make?

Cauliflower Moment…our efforts to look better may actually be aging us more quickly rather than helping us stay younger.