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by author, natural beauty expert & cancer survivor Britta AragonRSS



Toxic Alert: Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It—Including Cosmetic Chemicals

By Britta Aragon on December 18, 2009 | 30 Comments

People used to think the skin was an impenetrable barrier, blocking anything from entering (or exiting) the body. After all, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to take a shower without bloating up with water, right?

Now we know better. Skin does provide a barrier to the world, but not an impenetrable one. Stay in the bath long enough and you’ll see—skin absorbs water to a certain extent, which is why it wrinkles.

“Your skin is enough of a barrier to keep fluids within your body,” writes Samuel Epstein, MD, and author of Toxic Beauty (BenBella Books, 2009), “but it also readily absorbs many things with which it comes in contact.”

Whether or not the skin will absorb something depends on a lot of factors, including the substance itself, the health of the skin, site of exposure, temperature, hydration of the skin, even how hairy the skin is. One study showed that hairier skin, because of its increased number of hair follicles, absorbed more benzoapyrene (BP—a suspected human carcinogen) than hairless skin. Testosterone, however, penetrated both types of skin equally. (These studies were conducted on mice, which according to other studies, have a skin-absorption rate more than 3-fold higher than human skin, so human skin absorption levels could be lower.) But though scientists still can’t pin down exactly how much or under what circumstances skin may absorb something, they all agree that it can absorb what is applied to it.

“Chemicals can be absorbed through skin and into the blood stream, causing toxic effects,” says the Extension Toxicology Network (EXTOXNET). The Chemical Hazards Handbook from the London Hazards Centre Trust has similar information: “Although the skin acts as a protective barrier against many micro-organisms and chemicals, some chemicals can penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream.” Researcher Linda Chaé, writing for thehealthytruth.net, agrees, citing the danger to unborn children: “Recent studies by dermatologists at the University of California and a multiple university cooperative team confirm that skin absorption is the major route of entry [for chemicals from skin or hair products getting into the womb].”

Beyond the fact that skin can absorb chemicals is the danger those chemicals pose in the body. Many experts agree that absorption through the skin is more dangerous than through the mouth. Substances absorbed into the digestive system go through the kidneys and the liver where enzymes break them down and often detoxify them, whereas substances absorbed through the skin go through no such process. “Chemicals taken in by the mouth are absorbed by the intestines and pass into venous blood, which is taken to the liver,” Epstein says. “Carcinogens absorbed through the skin bypass the liver and enter blood circulation without this protection.”

Though we still don’t know for sure what percentage of the chemicals we put on our bodies everyday is absorbed into the blood stream, the fact that it happens should be enough to motivate us to be more careful. For your health and the health of those you love, look at your skin in a different way—when you put something on it, imagine that substance inside your body. Would you feel as comfortable using it? If not, try something else instead—something with more wholesome, safe ingredients you can feel good about.

Realizing your skin is permeable, have you made changes in your skin-care routine? Please share your experiences.

Photo courtesy madelien via Flickr.com.

Posted in: Skin, Lip and Body Care, Toxic Talk and Labels


30 Comments to “Toxic Alert: Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It—Including Cosmetic Chemicals”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cancer/Toxic Beauty, Linda Fisher. Linda Fisher said: RT @Britta_Aragon: Toxin Alert: Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It – Including Cosmetic Chemicals http://bit.ly/8s6GTN […]

  2. […] chemicals, artificial fragrances, chemical preservatives or any other toxin!  Knowing that whatever we apply to our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream, why would someone want to risk it? These toxins — which 100% Pure does […]

  3. Jennifer Akes says:

    I have begun using only natural ingredients on my skin, I make my own moisturizer from jojoba oil, Shea butter organically farmed, almond oil, and coconut oil. I also use organic witch hazel with rose petals from my garden as a toner. I use Emu oil organically farmed and harvested for my eyes and trouble areas and a formula I came up with for my lips that is an organic self plumping formula, it has almond oil, peppermint oil, coconut oil, and Aloe Vera gel in it. Not only does my skin look amazing, but my I feed incredible. My Doctor put me on natural progesterone, to help combat some medical issues and advised me to become more aware of the environmental estrogen in my hygiene products. After doing a lot of research was surprised to learn that many commercially prepared skin products are filled with toxins and chemicals that not only harm our bodies but also age our skin. So have begun a campaign to raise awareness in the products most women put on their skin and never give a second thought about. Just wanted to share this info to help others realize that it isn’t just what you put in your body it is what you put on your body that dictates how you feel. I am a grandmother of 6 and mother of 3 and I am normally guessed around 35 which shaves about 15 years off my actual age since I have been using all natural products for my skin.

  4. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for the great testimonial! You’re living proof that living with fewer toxins is not only possible, but so much better for your health as a whole. I bet you look fantastic! Thanks for writing in and letting our readers know that we don’t have to let toxins drag us down—there is an alternative.

  5. After becoming a victim of a very damageing antibiotic- I search for a totally free of chemicals skincare product—-started using Ava Anderson Non Toxic Products–totally SAFE.

  6. […] It has not been defined by science how much skin can absorb, however it seems clear from studies so far that skin absorbs anywhere between 60-100% of what we rub on our skin.  The chemicals we absorb from our skin care has been found in all sorts of organs, not the least of which being the womb. […]

  7. […] It has not been defined by science how much skin can absorb, however it seems clear from studies so far that skin absorbs anywhere between 60-100% of what we rub on our skin.  The chemicals we absorb from our skin care has been found in all sorts of organs, not the least of which being the womb. […]

  8. I believe “Non-toxic” on skin care labels only means that fewer than 1/2 of the animals that the product was tested on died during or within 2 weeks of application. I am using TOXIC FREE skin care products by Nature’s Pearl. They are truly without ANY harmful ingredients and my skin looks AMAZING for my “double-nickel” years! I still get carded when I occasionally purchase wine.

  9. Robbie Robb says:

    I put a small amount of vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid, but sodium ascorbate is the cheapest and would also work) in my bath to neutralise the chlorine, and also a sprinkling of borax to make it harder for my skin to absorb the fluoride that is added to water supply where I live. I also put a load of epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) in a couple of times a week as it helps to sweat out toxins when the water is hot and as is cools it allows the skin to absorb the magnesium.

  10. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Robbie. Thanks for the tips! You may also try a water filter to filter out those nasty chemicals. You can find them for shower and bath faucets online.

  11. Jen Owen says:

    Hi Britta, I was shocked when I found out what various beauty products were putting into my system when I was thinking of getting pregnant. Why do more people not know this information?
    I was watching what I was eating – only 100% natural- but didn’t even think of looking at the ingredients in my skincare or shampoo!
    I’ve now found a great company called Arbonne from Switzerland (where Mineral Oil in products is banned by the way) which are preservative, additive and paraben free, no mineral oil or alcohol, vegan approved as they have no gluten or animal by-products in, green, pH neutral, dermatologist tested, pure and safe and 100% botanical. No lanolin in the suncream either thank goodness!
    I felt so inspired I’ve started a website too: http://www.pureforlife.myarbonne.co.uk.
    Thanks for the information as always- keep it up, love it!

  12. […] skin absorb into the blood stream. Chemicals enter our blood stream through inhalation (breathing), skin contact, digestive system (eating or drinking) and injection.  All of this we can […]

  13. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Jen! What a good point you make. Yes, we have learned to be more careful about what we put in our mouths, but we still tend to forget that our skin can also be a pathway to what’s inside us. And of course that is particularly important when we’re carrying a little life. Unfortunately, studies have found that we’re passing chemicals onto our unborn children, so kudos to you for making the change now. Good luck with your pregnancy and best wishes for a happy, healthy baby!

  14. […] A study conducted by experts led to the discovery that the skin also readily absorbs various things that it comes it contact with. These include chemicals mostly found in products that we are using, including soap, shampoo, lotion, and yes, even your deodorant! […]

  15. suzanne flowerday says:

    Hi, I have read that it only takes 26 seconds for your skin to absorb what is applied to it – do you know if this is true or point me in the right direction to read more about this….many thanks, Suzanne

  16. The Key to Optimal Health and Well-being is . . . Consciousness (Part 2) | Tianah Lynn Rose.com says:

    […] If you want to here from more than one person, check out this awesome article Click me! […]

  17. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Suzanne. Thanks for writing in. How much skin absorbs what is applied to it depends on many factors, including the health of the skin, the temperature of the air, the humidity of the air, the skin’s hydration level, and the molecular makeup of what is applied to it. There really is no way to know precisely how long or how much of a material is absorbed into the skin except through scientific studies under very controlled conditions, and even these studies cannot tell us everything. The important thing is to realize that skin can absorb materials we leave on it and to choose your personal care products carefully. Of course, the most likely products to penetrate include those we leave on the skin, like moisturizers, so I would recommend starting there.

  18. […] Toxic Alert: Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It—Including Cosmetic Chemicals […]

  19. lily lewis says:

    I put coconut oil on my skin and within 5 minutes it’s all gone…totally absorbed. The same is true also of the mouth. If u put coconut oil in ur mouth it will be absorbed by the mouth rapidly and within a couple of minutes is gone…absorbed. pretty cool!

  20. […] need. Kantserogeenid, mis imenduvad läbi naha, ei läbi maksa ja sisenevad otse vereringesse. (Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It) Teada on ka see, et 60% ainetest, mida me oma nahale määrime, imenduvad meie organismi.  […]

  21. […] Alert: Skin Can Absorb What We Apply to It—Including Cosmetic Chemicals (2009). Cinco Vidas Blog. http://cincovidas.com/toxic-alert-skin-can-absorb-what-we-apply-to-it%E2%80%94including-cosmetic-che…. Accessed 7 November 2013. This entry was tagged Chemicals. Bookmark the […]

  22. […] Many experts agree that absorption through the skin is more dangerous than through the mouth. Substances absorbed into the digestive system go through the kidneys and the liver where enzymes break them down and often detoxify them, whereas substances absorbed through the skin go through no such process. “Chemicals taken in by the mouth are absorbed by the intestines and pass into venous blood, which is taken to the liver,” Samuel Epstein, MD, author of Toxic Beauty (BenBella Books, 2009) says. “Carcinogens absorbed through the skin bypass the liver and enter blood circulation without this protection” {Toxic Alert, Britta Aragon}. […]

  23. […] the kidneys and the liver, where enzymes break them down and often detoxify them. There is no such process for substances absorbed through the […]


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