Skincare myth #1: Does 60% of everything you put on your skin ends up in your bloodstream?

January 25, 2017

Myth #1 60% of everything you put on your skin end up in your bloodstream ?

There are a lot of myths out there in the skincare and beauty industry. Two of the more common ones are that "your skin absorbs 60% of what you put on it” and “anything you put on your skin is absorbed into your bloodstream within 26 seconds.”

These pop-up frequently across the internet in forums, blog posts, infographics and even company websites.   So there seems to be a lot of confusion on this topic, and I believe it's important to separate the myth from the truth. It is important to understand that cosmetics are there to provide benefits to the appearance of the skin, and that cosmetic chemists and formulators do NOT want cosmetics to enter your bloodstream because then they become classified as "drugs." The truth is anywhere between 0% to 100% of what you apply on your skin can end up in your bloodstream depending on the ingredient (not all ingredients can actually penetrate the skin), where it is applied (some areas of our epidermis are thicker while others are thinner e.g., eyelids vs the soles of the feet), the delivery mechanism, the environment, the ambient temperature, the product type, etc.

Beauty products that may more easily pass through your skin and enter the bloodstream include: dyes, some conventional perfumes, nail polish and nail polish removers. However, skin care products are typically designed not to penetrate to your bloodstream, but to interact with and improve the appearance of the surface of the skin.

The outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is hydrophobic ( i.e., it won’t let water penetrate the skin easily....if wasn't hydrophobic we would quickly take on water during a bath or shower just like a sponge). That outer layer is also lipophilic (oil-loving) and so plant oils will usually be able to penetrate to this first layer of the skin (but not deeper than that).

Essential oils however, because of their molecular structures can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and end up in your bloodstream. So use of essential oils in cosmetic formulation must be done carefully and typically at very low concentrations. Some categories of ingredients and stronger chemicals found in household products (e.g., some perfumes and aerosols) can pass easily through the skin, ending up in your bloodstream and/or contributing to damage when used chronically and in high concentrations. So, as you can see, the amount of a substance that passes through the skin to the blood stream varies depending on a number of factors. The end result is probably not 60%, but somewhere in the continuum between 0% to 100% may enter the bloodstream.

For those who wish to learn more, I recommend you read Lorraine Dallmeier’s article “ Can Cosmetics be absorbed into your bloodstream? where she demystifies what substances can and cannot penetrate the skin, and what really ends up in your bloodstream. Lorraine Dallmeier’s is a scientist (biologist) and expert skincare formulator in addition to being the Director of Formula Botanica Organic Skincare School.

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