Can skincare products penetrate the skin?Published on: 27/02/2018
A new conversation has begun within the beauty industry – a discussion that confuses and frustrates many consumers keen to know that the products they use are safe and effective. Two concerns motivate this research and curiosity – as some worry about the absorption and toxicity of certain ingredients, others want to be sure that the expensive active ingredients in their anti-ageing cream are fully beneficial and available to the skin. Here we explain why skincare penetration is a complex issue, and how you can be sure that your chosen product is working hard for your skin to produce optimum results.
A simple question – with a complicated answer
As you can imagine this is a complex topic – but a quick look at skin biology goes some way to solving the mystery of product penetration. It’s useful to think of our skin as a protective barrier, keeping certain elements within and others outside of the body. It is comprised of three main layers – the top layer (or epidermis), the middle layer (the dermis) and the base layer (the hypodermis). These three layers work together to form a wall that can be difficult to navigate and penetrate for any ingredient. Within the layers are skin cells – stacked up like bricks in a wall to provide a strong and sturdy structure that’s not so easy to get around. The bottom line is that skin is not easy to penetrate – despite what some may say about a high percentage of cosmetic ingredients being ‘absorbed’ into the blood stream.
Several factors influence skin penetration
Skincare penetration isn’t just a biologically complex issue – it’s also interesting from a scientific and practical point of view. Several key factors influence an ingredient or formula’s ability to penetrate the skin. The first concerns molecular weight and size of an ingredient. If it is too big, it will be unable to slip through and navigate the gaps between the layers of the skin cells. Secondly, water-soluble or ‘hydrophile’ formulas possess diminished penetration properties compared with oil-soluble or ‘lipophile’ alternatives. This is because skin itself is waterproof and intercellular space often contains fats (also known as lipids). The polarity or charge of the molecule in question also has a role to play, as all ingredients will penetrate differently.
Skin condition also plays a part
Our skin naturally varies in thickness all over our body – from the thinnest areas (around the lips and eyes) to the thickest (palms of hands, soles of feet). This understandably influences and changes the penetrability of the skin – as thinner skin is more likely to be easy to penetrate, whereas thicker skin may not absorb the same formula quite so well. Skin that has recently been shaven or heavily exfoliated will be similarly more susceptible to penetration. Products that can be left on the skin, such as moisturising creams and serums, also have a longer period of time in order for ingredients to penetrate.
Choose formulas wisely
The number one mantra to bear in mind when choosing skincare is quality. Instead of choosing a brand based on the presence of an ingredient, enquire further to learn more about the delivery vehicle it is based within. Thoroughly research the credentials of the company behind the product you’re considering, and clinical efficacy of any ingredients within their formula. High-end skincare brands will talk not only about the effectiveness and benefits of their ingredients, but will also discuss the methods they use to ensure adequate penetration and optimum results.