Skin Absorption And Penetration: The Difference! (Updated 2023)

Skin absorption and penetration can be quite confusing, and more so if you regularly use these skincare products. The subject of skincare draws so much criticism just as it attracts attention and admiration. Perhaps it has to do with the idea that most of us have become so naïve even to question the false narratives being thrown around it.

The two terms, popularly and interchangeably used in the cosmetics world, mean different things. You have to understand that there is a big difference when we talk about molecules in relation to Skin absorption and penetration.

Penetration refers to when a molecule is applied to the skin and finds its way to the epidermis’s deeper ends.

Does It Mean The Molecule Gets Into The Bloodstream?

The epidermis is only the upper layer of the skin and doesn’t have any vascular networks to push the molecules into the bloodstream.

In essence, it only reaches the dermis and does not affect the body system.

Absorption means the applied molecule finds its way into the dermis, where there are vascular networks and into the bloodstream.

However, not all the time will the absorbed molecule react with your body. In some instances, the body will excrete or accumulate the molecule.

In worst scenarios, the accumulation may lead to adverse body effects.

How Much Of What You Put On Your Skin Is Absorbed?

skin is absorbed

The myth that 60% of whatever is applied to your skin gets into your bloodstream is quite loud.

And as earlier mentioned, it’s mostly a marketing strategy being pushed by companies and people vouching for non-toxic brands.

Knowing how much chemicals slip in during Skin absorption and penetration makes it imperative to learn how the skin works.

Your skin isn’t A Sponge

skin isn’t A Sponge

One of the skin’s primary roles is to prevent any substance from getting into the body’s deeper layers.

Think about this.

If it was easy for the skin to absorb everything it came into contact with, would it be possible to live?

Because, if the skin absorbed that much:

  • You wouldn’t need to take off your make-up at the end of the day.
  • We would all add wait after absorbing water during bathing.
  • We would not even care to eat food. Just slap it on the skin, and boom. All absorbed.

To answer our question, your skin doesn’t have an even permeability all over the skin. It all depends on the location of the chemical application.

There are quite a few substances that will absorb 60% and more. But most of the time, most of the ingredients wouldn’t even cross the 30% mark.

Read More: Natural Preservatives for Cosmetic Products

How Do Chemicals Penetrate The Skin And Get Into Your Body?

You see, every substance has a unique way through which they get into your body. And the unique methods involve using different routes.

Let’s have a look.

  • Inhalation: All airborne pollutants can get into your lungs, either through the mouth or the nose. Most chemicals get into your body through this route. To prevent such occurrences, ensure you put on protective gear while performing different jobs that might expose you to contaminants.
  • Absorption. In some instances, these dangerous chemicals can get into your body through the skin or eyes. To prevent absorption through the eyes, ensure you put on masks and other protective equipment.
  • Ingestion– Sometimes, harmful chemicals can find their way into your body through the mouth. The substances could be in the form of dust, food, or cigarettes. The best way to avoid such a scenario is by keeping high hygiene standards when handling chemicals and food.
  • Injection: It could be intentional or through accidents. The use of syringe needles and other contaminated objects to introduce some chemicals into the body. Although it doesn’t happen more often, the need to be careful with sharp objects and proper storage is vital.

Factors That Affect Skin Absorption And Penetration

The penetration of different substances into the body depends on several factors. It is the main reason some substances may get into the skin so fast, while others take time to reach the deeper layers of the skin.

  • Concentration. The more concentrated molecules in the substance, the easier it is to get absorbed in the skin.
  • How heavy or light is the molecule? The smaller molecules quickly pass for absorption.
  • How much time the product spends on the skin surface
  • How fast or slow the molecule can dissolve
  • The physical condition of the skin. This may include the skin’s age, existing health conditions, skincare routine, and other environmental conditions.
  • The part of the body exposed, including the amount of hair on the skin.

What Are Some Of The Skin Enhancers?

Skin Enhancers

Generally, the skin serves as an impediment, temperature regulator and prevents loss of excessive water through the skin.

The barrier nature of the skin can’t allow some of the molecules to pass through it. Therefore, some skin enhancers have been developed to help with easy penetration of these substances.

Skin enhancers enhance the permeability of the skin, albeit temporarily. They help with the absorption of some ionizable drugs which would have otherwise not passed through the skin.

  • Occlusive Agents

Most occlusive agents repel water and are made up of large molecules which rarely go past the skin. In most instances, they sit on the skin surface, thus acting like a protective layer.

  • Esters

Mainly used for flavoring and in perfumes, esters can also be suitable solvents. Their solvent nature makes it easier for molecules to take the intercellular route.

  • Surfactants and Solvents

The primary function of surfactant is to reduce surface tension. They can also eliminate the oils on your skin, thus leaving them more permeable to ingredients.

  • Enzymes

Enzymes trigger the actions of other enzymes and inhibit their synthesis. In some instances, the enzymes alter the stratum corneum’s structure to enhance penetration by these substances.

Features of the skin enhancers

The skin-enhancing material should be natural absorbents. They should not cause irritation or any form of allergy.

  • The enhancer shouldn’t possess any color or taste.
  • It should be chemically stable.
  • It should be compatible with the drugs being administered.
  • It shouldn’t induce any form of leakage of body fluids.

Skincare Ingredients That Easily Absorb Into The Skin

Several skincare ingredients can be absorbed into the skin. However, others easily find

their way into the inner layers, even without skin enhancers.

Most of these natural oils and synthetic scents contain relatively small oil-based molecules.

These tiny molecules easily get absorbed into the skin and may end up in your bloodstream.

Another substance that can quickly get into your skin is oil. Unlike water-based ingredients, they can easily pass through the intercellular matrix.

Read More: Pros and Cons of Sleeping in a Recliner Chair

The Most Absorbent Part of the Skin

As we earlier mentioned, not all skin parts would absorb these chemicals and substances at the same rate and manner. It depends on where and how they are applied.

Other parts may be slow in absorption, others relatively fast, while other parts may entirely not be absorbent.

The hair follicles and the pores on your skin are the most absorbent parts during Skin absorption and penetration. Once the substances pass for the features we mentioned above, they can easily get into your skin.

However, the enzymes break down the substance and ensure only the safe particles go through.

What we put on our skins can prove to be detrimental in the long run. It’s therefore vital to be mindful of the chemicals and fragrances we use.

Does Body Lotion Get Absorbed Into The Bloodstream During Skin Absorption And Penetration?

The answer is a plain no. There are no known ingredients in these lotions that find their way into the body system. While many people still believe these creams get into the bloodstream, the truth is that most of these lotions majorly act as additional protective surfaces.

Creams form a layer that protects the skin from any form of harmful intrusion.

However, that isn’t to deny that some chemicals in these creams still find their way into the body. And that takes us to our earlier argument- it all depends on every person’s unique features.

What Are The Benefits Of Cream?


Creams come in handy especially when the skin is exposed to harmful environmental effects. As a way to remain safe all day, under the scorching sun, it would be imperative to use these lotions to lessen the effects of intense sun rays and cold weather.

After Skin Absorption And Penetration, What Next?

Where do all these substances absorb into the skin end up? Do they find a way out, eventually?

It is important to know that all the chemicals that go into the skin must pass through seven epidermis cell layers. Once these chemicals navigate all these routes, they will finally end up in the bloodstream, where they move to other parts of the body.

Most of these toxic elements find their way into the bloodstream through passive diffusion. However, absorption also depends on the size of the molecule. The smaller the molecule, the easier and faster it gets to the bloodstream.

When the molecules get assimilated into the bloodstream, the resultant reaction depends on the amount absorbed. The kind of chemical absorbed also dictates the type of reaction that may occur.

For How Long Do These Chemicals Stay In The Body?

Again, this question hasn’t any straightforward answer. One, because it depends on the kind of chemical present during Skin absorption and penetration. Some of these synthetics will take even weeks before actually interfering with normal body functions. Some will react almost immediately and finally find their way out through organs like lungs and kidneys.

While other substances may leave after a short time, others may stay in your system for years. During this time, they might cause some mild effects, or in rare cases, severe damages when they come into contact with some organs or tissues.

How Do The Chemicals React In The Body?

Chemicals React In The Body

The reaction depends on the following things:

  • The kind of chemical absorbed
  • The age of the individual
  • Sex and genetic history
  • Diet

All the above factors, in one way or the other, determine how your body reacts when it interacts with the chemicals. It means, therefore, that every person has a unique reaction to the chemicals.

Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain how harmful each chemical could be given that none of the mentioned factors act alone.

The only solution to getting a good skin product for your skin is getting one that absorbs your skin and leaves with no or fewer effects.

How Do You Increase Skin Absorption And Penetration?

When you apply most of these moisturizers, not all of them penetrate the skin. That is evidenced by the veils of moisture on your face after using the product.

Exfoliate Regularly

Exfoliate Regularly

When you get rid of the outer layer of skin, the serums and moisturizers easily reach the skin’s deeper ends.

Steam Your Face

Steam Your Face

There is a high likelihood that your face absorbs so much when the temperatures are relatively high. Ever wondered why your face would be veiled with a steaming towel before facial.

Well, because at that temperature, it’s easier to absorb most of the skincare products. Don’t just do it once. Two times or more in a week would leave you with desirable results.

Use The Products When Your Skin Is Still Damp

Your body generally feels smooth and soft when you leave the shower. The skin absorbs with much ease at this time, and applying serums would ensure faster absorption.


Skin absorption and penetration are unique in every person. But more importantly, the skin is purposely made to help with the protection of the inner cells and organs. Therefore, it would be dishonest and misleading to claim that most of the skin products applied on the skin find their way into the bloodstream.

The skin also reacts differently to most of these substances. What works for you might not work for the other person, and vice-versa. The skin acts as a protection layer. To ensure some of these skincare products work effectively, you will need enhancers to help with their absorption.

Leave a Comment