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The truth about what your skin can absorb!

by Selina Mithen |

Your skin is not a helpless, porous organ, that allows the passage of any substance without any safeguards – it does not allow anywhere near the commonly quoted 60% - 100% of topical substances being absorbed straight into your body – it is the exact opposite of this! If this were true, we wouldn’t need to be injecting botox or fillers into our skin!

Your skin is stronger than you think!

In fact, for any substance to pass through your skin it must overcome a mine field of barriers and defence mechanisms that are more sophisticated than many of us realise!

The first level of defence is the skin barrier.

This barrier is made up of tightly packed intercellular lipids and skin cells and due to the packed nature of this layer very few substances will penetrate. It comes down to molecular size / weight, if it is water or lipid soluble, penetration enhancers, how hydrated the skin is, and use of occlusives ie; skin patches or petrolatum for example. This is just some of the factors involved.


Dąbrowska, AKSpano, FDerler, SAdlhart, CSpencer, NDRossi, RMThe relationship between skin function, barrier properties, and body‐dependent factorsSkin Res Technol201824165– 174

There are skin penetration enhancers that will assist in delivering actives deeper into the skin such as glycols, surfactants, urea, Transcutol (diethylene glycol monoethyl ether) and Dimethyl isosorbide – however these substances can also increase delivery of irritants as well, meaning there is more potential for skin reactivity. Terpene containing essential oils are excellent penetration enhancers such as Citrus oils, Lavender, and Tea tree for example, however the increased penetration potential also makes them irritants to the skin as well.

There is also the 500 Dalton rule in skin absorption which provides a guide to size of particle and ability for it to penetrate the skin – anything over this size is not able to penetrate the skin, but this also depends on the health of the skin and if the skin barrier is intact as well as the use of penetration enhances.

Next you have the immune cells within the skin that are constantly on surveillance for foreign substances and microbes and will be ready to mount an attack and removal tactic if these substances seem threatening – this often looks like a skin reaction on the surface.

You also have a variety of enzymes within the skin that interfere with and degrade foreign substances, which makes it very difficult to develop topical drugs, even though most drugs for topical delivery are under the 500 dalton size, they still have difficulty getting these drugs to completely penetrate the skin and reach the bloodstream.

“Penetration is much more complex, and the skin’s barrier function does not only depend on the stratum corneum; what has been underestimated is the second (biological) skin barrier formed of enzymes. Compared to the stratum corneum, very little is known about these enzymes, e.g., which enzymes are present in the skin and where exactly they are localized. Hence, very few strategies can be found for how to bypass or even use the skin enzyme barrier for transdermal drug development”

Pyo S, M, Maibach H, I: Skin Metabolism: Relevance of Skin Enzymes for Rational Drug Design. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2019;4:283-294. doi: 10.1159/000501732


Your skin also has a high capacity for detoxification – yes, that’s right, just like your liver. The skin contains the exact same detoxifying Phase 1 and 2 enzymes that your liver has. The skin is highly capable of detoxifying xenobiotics (substances foreign to the human body) and eliminating them without harm.

Even highly toxic particulate matter from pollution is captured within the skin. When the detoxification process is highly intensified due to high exposure of pollutants it sets off a reaction of inflammation. This is a defence mechanism that preserves the vital structures that exist well beneath the skin, in other words, the skin takes a massive hit to protect the overall organs of the body.


So you can see that the skin has highly advanced processes to prevent the absorption of harmful substances and microbes, so the fear campaigns quoting that the skin absorbs nearly everything are unfounded. This type of marketing unfairly creates fear and anxiety in consumers. Research findings based on high exposures to substances (that can be used in cosmetics) can be embellished on and manipulated to serve as a premise for fear-based marketing tactics.

I will give you an example of how I could manipulate some information and make essential oils the toxic enemy…

There are numerous research papers that point to essential oils being phototoxic, cytotoxic (cell destroying, and even carcinogenic (as in citrus oils). Lavender oil has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and cause Gynecomastia (breast growth) in children. Now, as you can see, if it suited my agenda I could really start to create some fear around this and never mind the facts around concentration, exposure, and environmental factors that were unique to these findings. These published studies are few and far between, but they are out there. (References 4, 5, 6, 7) Although there are several papers about the toxicity of essential oils, there are plenty to support their safe use, however, I could still manipulate the information to confirm the “toxicity” of these oils. Sidenote: I do believe many of essential oils are skin irritants and they are used too often in cosmetics.

We can and should communicate in a positive manner and if something is truly dangerous to a consumer, by all means point that out, but supply some credible research and resources to support the argument, and more than one research reference should be given. As consumers we need to find reliable sources of information.

To summarise, the skin is a highly intelligent organ that will most appropriately allow substances that are bio-sympathetic to infuse and integrate with its upper most layers. This will trigger cell to cell communication and physiological processes that will ensure the skin is repairing and regenerating itself. This is why the ingredients in the Genus products are chosen for their skin identical properties, for ultimate skin compatibility, no other agenda needed…



1. Kim, B., Cho, HE., Moon, S.H. et al. Transdermal delivery systems in cosmetics. Biomed Dermatol 4, 10 (2020).
2. Siamaque Kazem, Emma Charlotte Linssen, Susan Gibbs, Skin metabolism phase I and phase II enzymes in native and reconstructed human skin: a short review; Drug Discovery Today,Volume 24,   Isssue 9, 2019, Pages 1899-1910, ISSN 1359-6446,
3. Wiegand C, Hewitt N, J, Merk H, F, Reisinger K: Dermal Xenobiotic Metabolism: A Comparison between Native Human Skin, Four in vitro Skin Test Systems and a Liver System. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2014;27:263-275. doi: 10.1159/000358272
4. J Tyler Ramsey, Yin Li, Yukitomo Arao, Ajanta Naidu, Laurel A Coons, Alejandro Diaz, Kenneth S Korach, Lavender Products Associated With Premature Thelarche and Prepubertal Gynecomastia: Case Reports and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical Activities, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 104, Issue 11, November 2019, Pages 5393–5405,
5. Henley DV, Korach KS. Physiological effects and mechanisms of action of endocrine disrupting chemicals that alter estrogen signaling. Hormones (Athens). 2010;9(3):191-205. doi:10.14310/horm.2002.1270
6. Bakkali, S. Averbeck, D. Averbeck, M. Idaomar, Biological effects of essential oils – A review, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 46, Issue 2, 2008, Pages 446-475, ISSN 0278-6915
7. Sara García-Salinas 1,†, Hellen Elizondo-Castillo 1,†, Manuel Arruebo, Gracia Mendoza, and Silvia Irusta; Evaluation of the Antimicrobial Activity and Cytotoxicity of Different Components of Natural Origin Present in Essential Oils, Molecules 2018, 23, 1399; doi:10.3390/molecules23061399

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