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Skin Absorption: When to Worry

How skin absorbs ingredients, and which ones you’ll want to keep out

Written by: 100% PURE®
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Out of all the fantastic functions of our skin, one of the most important ones is skin absorption. Our largest organ acts like a sponge, absorbing anything that sits on its surface. So where does all that skin care go?

It’s important to choose skin care products that your body can easily break down, while avoiding bad ingredients that can potentially infiltrate your bloodstream. Follow along as we explain the pros and cons of skin absorption, and which ingredients can help (or hurt) skin care benefits.


How Does Skin Absorption Work?

It’s easy to forget that our skin is not the impenetrable fortress we sometimes believe it to be. Yes, it’s our largest, most protective organ. But like many other bodily functions, our skin is a complex, often fragile membrane made up of tiny pores, layers, and textures. While our skin has natural protective mechanisms in place, it still requires regular TLC to remain healthy and functional.

What we put on our skin doesn’t just sit on the surface; it travels through an elaborate absorption process. Skin absorption is dependent on the thickness of the outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum – and the substance’s ability to get past the ‘brick and mortar’ components of the skin. Though our skin has this robust structure in place, there are a few things that can make it or break it.

When it comes to beauty, there are certain skin care ingredients we’d love to penetrate to our deepest layers that are safe and effective. A great example is vitamin C, or vitamin E. But there are also toxic compounds that can be absorbed through your skin, making it all the way into your bloodstream. This is why it’s crucial to know what’s going on your skin, and potentially infiltrating your internal systems.


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Good Vs. Bad Skin Absorption

When it comes to choosing skin care products, becoming an ingredient label expert and knowing how to see through marketing jargon can help you steer clear of common toxic ingredients.

There are certain ingredients that, when absorbed into skin, have a beneficial and effective beauty purpose. Hyaluronic acid is one of the beneficial ingredients for skin absorption. It helps to restore essential hydration to parched skin, and give our skin a youthful bounce.

When your body is absorbing ingredients that it doesn’t recognize or can’t break down, that’s where you run into issues. Some toxic ingredients can potentially infiltrate your bloodstream, and trigger serious health concerns. Parabens, which can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, are popular preservative ingredients found in many mainstream products. They have been deemed endocrine disruptors, and can have serious side effects with long term use.


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PEGs and Skin Absorption

Skin absorption doesn’t just stop at harsh chemicals or toxic ingredients – look out for fillers, too. A commonly used filler can be found on ingredient lists as PEG (short for polyethylene glycol). This class of water-soluble polymers have the ability to moisturize skin, preserve a product, and enhance its absorbency, making it a versatile ingredient in many cosmetic formulas.

PEGs are almost often followed by a dash with a number: like PEG-6, PEG-8, PEG-100 and so on. This number represents the approximate molecular weight of that particular PEG compound. Lower weights are better able to penetrate the skin, so you’ll often see lower numbers in your skin care products.

While PEGs are not inherently bad, it’s the combination of their structure, molecular weight, and what they're paired with that’s associated with risk. Since all forms of PEGs can facilitate absorption, non-toxic proponents warn that damaged or compromised skin should not use products with PEGs.

The reputation of PEGs was tarnished when consumers started realizing the irritation and skin sensitization they can cause – and also for the impurities found to contaminate them. Pollutants in PEGs include heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and ethylene oxide. When paired with toxic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals, PEGs can also act as a vehicle for quickening absorption of these chemicals into the bloodstream.


When you break down the facts, it’s easy to understand the correlation between topical beauty products and skin absorption – and the margin for risk. While it’s important to read labels and understand which ingredients can be absorbed or effective for our skin, it’s equally crucial to comprehend the associated risks. Almost any ingredient can make its way into your body, your bloodstream, and lymphatic system – so make sure you know what’s going on your skin!

We carefully hand-select products based on strict purity standards, and only recommend products we feel meet this criteria. 100% PURE™ may earn a small commission for products purchased through affiliate links.

The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.


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