Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Skinny on How Much Our Skin Absorbs

There have been several statements in the media and on the net about how much our skin absorbs. I've read numerous claims that our skin works 'like a sponge' and 'absorbs up to 60% of what is applied to it'. The people making these claims even cite scientific studies to back their statements up. The problem is, the cited studies are being misquoted, misunderstood, and taken completely out of context.

How do I know? 
I checked with a scientist – someone who understands the lingo of the quoted studies and could 'translate' the information to lay terms.

Like Reading a Foreign Language
There are a lot of non-scientist people researching cosmetics ingredients and writing about them these days (myself included). And even though they may be well-meaning, they are not scientists. The majority probably see themselves as a relatively intelligent and clever enough to understand at least some (and maybe even most) of what they are reading when they study scientific documentation.

Headline Hunting
But, when non-scientists read scientific documents, they tend to skip past the parts they don't understand and focus on the parts they do understand. And that's when the problems start. A snippet of information can easily be taken out of context and passed on. It may make for a catchy headline and be a great story, but it can misinform instead of educating.

I Was Gonna....
I was planning on writing a post about how we may not actually eat through our skin but can certainly nourish it (which we can). I was going to explain in detail about the molecule size of components in vegetable and essential oils that are absorbed through our skin (and there are many). I was all lined up to give you an EXACT percentage of how much our skin absorbs because I was convinced that – with enough research – I would be able to answer this question once and for all and put all doubting minds to rest all around the world.

Guess what.

I found the answer!

The Truth and Nothing But The Truth
Do you want to know the truth about how much our skin absorbs?
The answer is: it depends.
It depends on what substance we are talking about. It depends on the individual. It even depends on the time of day (the same person will not even absorb the same substance the same way twice!). It depends on so many things that it is impossible to give a blanket answer with a set number.

What, No Headline?
Even though this may not be the catchy headline and story I was hoping to deliver, I came out of this research session a bit wiser. And quite honestly, I think 'it depends' is a pretty cool answer. It makes for a whole slew of new, interesting stuff to learn about.

And on that note... 
I would like to take a moment to thank all the scientists who are spending time imparting their knowledge to all of us lay people looking for easily digestible answers to incredibly complicated questions. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who appreciates your efforts, so, thanks! (and please keep it up!)

If you would like to read a more detailed explanation about how much our skin absorbs, please visit this 2-part article by Dene Godfrey.
Skin is our largest organ part 1
Skin is our largest organ part 2

Now tell me honestly, were you disappointed in the answer, or had you already guessed it?


Anonymous said...

I wasnt that suprised with the answer. But I think that its very interesting. Our skin WILL absorb things, and when I was non-natural/non-crunchy, I cant imagine what chemicals leeched into my skin. Yech.

Lise M Andersen said...

I totally understand what you mean about wanting to feel comfortable with what we apply to our skin. I am also pretty certain that what we eat has a huge influence on our health overall. Even though there are no scientific tests that prove eating (or even applying) organic is safer or better (yet), I still prefer organic!