How does the skin absorb products?

Back to basics – the role of our skin 

Skin is our largest organ and plays a very important role in regulating our body temperature, but its main role is to provide protection. It acts as a barrier and helps prevent harmful organisms and substances from entering the body. 

Skin layers 

Our skin is made up of three layers. The top layer is called the epidermis and is sometimes referred to as the waterproof barrier. The stratum corneum is located here and as the outermost layer it is responsible for preventing unwanted visitors from getting in! The middle layer is called the dermis and this is where you will find collagen, elastin, blood vessels and hair follicles. The bottom layer stores fat and connective tissues and is called the hypodermis.  

How does our skin absorb products? 

There are three different types of skin penetration: 

Intercellular– Products are absorbedbetween the cells in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin. 

Intracellular - Product penetratesthrough the stratum corneum. The skin is very dense here and that is where smaller molecules do well at getting through. 

Follicular– Products enter skin through openings in the skin such as pores and follicles.  

Skincare absorption vs. penetration – what's the difference? 

Absorption is when a product makes its way into the bloodstream while skincare penetration is when a product goes through the epidermis and down into the lower layers of the skin. 


What can affect how a product works? 

Not all skincare products interact with the skin in the same way. Ingredients, the formulation and whether it is a water or oil-based product, all affect how they will be absorbed or how deeply they will penetrate the skin. On average, it is estimated that it takes up to half an hour for heavier formulas to be fully absorbed by the skin. 

Oils and serums can penetrate deep into the skin whereas creams work more effectively closer to the surface layers, both bringing unique benefits. The products that do not go deeper are still very effective and play their own important role as they provide a shield on the surface layer, meaning layers beneath are kept nourished and healthy. 

The molecular size of the ingredient can also have an effect. Larger molecules will stay closer to the surface of the skin while smaller molecules, like certain types of hyaluronic acid will be able to go deeper into layers below the epidermis.  

Depending on where you apply your product, the thickness of the skin can also affect ingredient absorption. Our bodies have various thicknesses of skin and in areas where the skin is thinner, such as around the eyes, formulas will be absorbed quicker.