How Skin Absorbs Beauty Products

This article came about because of a conversation I had with a customer about water in skincare products. We’ll get to that part later in the article.

It’s hard to put together an effective skincare routine if you don’t understand how the products work. So let’s dive into how the skin works and how different product types are absorbed. To do this, we must first have some understanding of the three layers of the skin.

The Three Layers of Skin

Your skin is the largest organ in the body and is composed of three layers: the Epidermis, the Dermis, and the Hyopdermis.

The Epidermis is basically layers and layers of tightly packed skin cells. The top layer of the epidermis is known as the Stratum Corneum, comprised of several layer of flat skin cells that overlap like tiles on a roof. The epidermis is water resistance and protects you against harmful substances and environmental elements. It’s your barrier to the outside world. It’s very good at its job.

The middle layer of the skin is the Dermis. This is where a lot of magic happens. The dermis produces two important proteins: collagen and elastin, needed for maintaining firmness and elasticity. Also within the dermis are other types of connective tissue, blood vessels, nerve endings, hair follicles, and sweat and oil glands.

The inner most layer is the Hypodermis, containing fats, connective tissue, blood vessels and nerve cells. Fat cells store energy, provide cushioning, and insulation. Overeating and lack of exercise can cause fat cells to expand and get larger. Fat cells like to be “full”. But this is another topic for discussion at a later time.

How Beauty Products Penetrate the Skin

Your skin is a dynamic, living tissue; as such penetration and absorption characteristics are susceptible to constant change. Penetrate is a more descriptive word than absorption. Absorption, medically, implies an ingredient making its way to the bloodstream. Remember, when talking about penetration or absorption, everything has to go through the water-resistant, protective barrier of the epidermis (stratum corneum). There are three different ways to penetrate the skin layers:

Intercellular – when substances penetrate the area between skin cells. The area between the skin cells in the outer most layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum) is composed of cholesterol, cholesterol esters, fatty acids, and ceramides. Therefore, oil based products are more likely to penetrate this way.

Intracellular – where substances penetrate inside the skin cells. It is difficult for substances to penetrate this way and only small molecules are able to do so.

Follicular – when substances penetrate through openings in the skin such as hair follicles and pores. Since hair follicles represent 0.1% of the surface of the skin, this method of penetration is the least used.

Aside from the Stratum Corneum working very well at barring outside substances, the natural moisturizing factor (NMF)—located within the cells of the Stratum Corneum—contains humectants (water attracting) such as amino acids, urea, lactate, mineral salts and organic acids. NMF regulates moisture content and attracts water from the air (or water based products placed on skin) keeping skin hydrated. In a previous newsletter I discussed this more in depth explaining the difference between hydrating skin and moisturizing skin. It’s also on my blog; you can read about it here.

Water in Beauty Products

Water in beauty products is a solvent, meaning certain compounds are very hydrophilic (water loving) and dissolve very well in water. In fact, it is by this method the only way certain substances can be delivered to the skin. Vitamin C, Niacinamide (Vit B3), all the other B Vitamins, Hyaluronic Acid, Betacarotenes, Retinol, salts (magnesium, sodium, calcium)—are all examples of being highly water soluble. When added to an emulsion, a combination of water and oils, it becomes an effective delivery method to improve skin penetration of the ingredients you want.

Oils are great for conditioning skin and providing nutrients that penetrate the skin through the intracellular matrix, but if skin is dehydrated, oils will still have difficulty taking compounds in. Hydrated skin allows better penetration than dehydrated skin. Think of the oil and water combination as a one-two punch for your happiest, best looking skin. You get the best combination of nutrient-rich ingredients to penetrate skin, water soluble and oil soluble.

Tips for Improving Skincare Products Penetration

Here are some tips to maximize the benefits from your skincare products by boosting penetration:

1. Choose the ingredients
Select gentle and natural ingredients as they are better for the skin and more readily absorbed.

2. Use the right combination
Emulsions created by combining oils and water increase skin absorption. Apply water-based moisturizer before applying pure facial oil or serum for the best possible penetration rates and results.

3. Set the right temperature
Interestingly, warm skin will absorb skincare products better than skin that is cold. This is often why skincare experts recommend using a warm compress or even steam to warm skin and open pores before applying skincare products. Ever get a facial? Before applying moisturizers, the skin is warmed.

4. Exfoliate consistently and regularly
Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that tend to clog up the routes that your products take to penetrate skin. You can mechanically exfoliate (nylon scrubby, soap savers, washcloth, granule exfoliants, salt & sugar scrubs, etc.) or chemically exfoliate (involves acids that break the chemical bonds that hold dead skin cells to the skins surface). Most skin types tolerate two times per week. If you have mature or sensitive skin, exfoliate every four to five days.

Final Thoughts

Your skin is a dynamic, living, breathing organ. It deserves your attention to ensure its optimal health as its optimal health will help to ensure your optimal health. Yes, it requires some time and effort but when is anything worthwhile in life without that? The results you’ll get will be glowing, vital looking skin. And who doesn’t want that?

Keep striving and thriving to be the best possible you! There are people you probably don’t even know that depend on your vibrancy and being.

Forever Your Champion,


P.s. If you’re looking for some skincare products, check out our purposeful skincare line. We have a botanical herb infused serum and an emulsified serum (hyaluronic acid & niacinamide), a special face cream, and a newly introduced Retinol Serum.

We also have a variety of high quality organic body products, from anhydrous body butters and lotion sticks to wonderful skin loving lotions. Frankly, a combination of both works well to maintain skin moisture and skin hydration.

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