So the old saying goes… you are what you eat. It’s true since your body rebuilds itself every ten years – of course it regenerates by using the nutrients in the food you eat. That’s why every bite matters. What about the stuff you put on your skin? Does it end up in your bloodstream and contribute towards rebuilding and healing you?
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn
The answer is yes. If what we put on our skin did not absorb, topical medication would not exist and we would not be putting vitamins in creams. Research suggests that, depending on the ingredient, chemical and person, anything from 0% to a 60% can be absorbed. The question you should be asking is; how important is it to make sure you put only the most pure and nourishing substances on your skin?
How does your skin work?
You’ll remember learning at school about the three groups of layers that make up your skin – the hypodermis (inner-most), the dermis (middle) and the epidermis (outermost).
The hypodermis, also known as subcutaneous tissue, is where fat storage takes place and provides insulation and padding. The fat cells in the hypodermis store nutrients and energy and it also roots your hair follicles and sweat glands.
The dermis provides skin structure in the form of protein collagen (strength) and elastin (elasticity) and is entwined with blood vessels from where circulation to a wider area takes place.
The epidermis, high in keratin, acts as a barrier and protector. The outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, is hydrophobic (water-fearing) thereby keeping moisture out – which is a good thing, otherwise you’d be quite puffy after a shower. It also protects us from other harms like UV rays, bacterial infections, allergens and chemical irritants.
The truth is that the stratum corneum of the epidermis is only semi-waterproof. Interestingly, the more water the cells of the epidermis are exposed to, the more permeable they become. When you spend a lot of time in the bath your fingers and toes become wrinkly, right. That’s because water has been absorbed through the stratum corneum and into layers beneath which are hydrophilic (water-loving).
The epidermis is slightly acidic, ranging between a pH level of 5.4 and 6.5. When the pH of the skin is disrupted and becomes alkaline (often a side effect of common soaps) the skin becomes dehydrated, irritated, flaky and prone to infection. It’s handy to know that all Down to Earth products are pH balanced for skin at a level of 5.5.
How does the skin absorb?
So, the outermost layer of the epidermis is water-fearing. Well, it is also lipophilic (oil-loving). This makes sense considering oil and water don’t tend to mix. Since it is oil-loving, the oils in lotions and potions are absorbed quickly and easily, and along with those oils so are oil-soluble chemicals – organic and non-organic.
Areas of the body which are hairy, like the forearms, are most easily penetrated by chemicals since they can enter down the small duct containing the hair shaft. Some chemicals can soften the keratin cells in the skin and pass through epidermis to the dermis, where they are able to enter the blood vessels and hence the blood stream, serving the localised area. There are however enzymatic reactions along the way to break down certain chemicals or change them in some way.
Absorption into the dermis and blood vessels is a useful thing for topical pain treatments, like the Down to Earth African Potato Cream, a natural anti-inflammatory. They are best used rubbed into the skin over affected areas which are close to the skin’s surface, like the joints in your hands and knees. They are particularly helpful to ease painful arthritis, muscle pains and sprains and reduce swelling affecting joints and muscles.
What you put on matters
So, your skin absorbs some substances and chemicals, it enters the bloodstream and contributes towards rebuilding and healing you. But how much of you? Although topical medication can treat areas of the body close to the skin, it seems only the skin benefits from nutrition taken through topical applications – internal organs do not benefit.
Topical application of micronutrients complements a healthy diet, leading to a stronger and healthier protective barrier for the body able to fight off external harms, regenerate and heal effectively. Your skin is your biggest organ, so if you want to remain toxin-free, healthy and nourished, it is recommended that you stick to natural and organic products.
“If it isn’t good enough to go into your mouth, don’t put it on your skin.” – Anonymous
What influences absorption?
As an FYI, here are some things to keep in mind when applying topical ointments.
- The more you put on, the more likely it will be absorbed.
- As we have learnt from the lots-of-water-many-wrinkly-fingers example mentioned earlier, the longer you are exposed to a substance, the more chance there is that your skin would absorb it.
- If your skin is damaged, there is more chance of the substance penetrating and reaching your blood stream. Contact with some chemicals such as detergents can cause skin dryness and cracking. These conditions weaken the protective layer of the skin and may allow good and bad chemicals to enter the body. For weakened skin, use only the purest stuff out there.
Your body is younger than you think
Micronutrients and skin health
Skin anatomy and physiology
The impermeable facts of skin penetration and absorption
Can cosmetics be absorbed into your bloodstream?
Skin Care Products – How Much Gets In?