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Skin Science: How Does Your Skin Absorb Beauty Products


It’s hard to build an effective skincare routine without understanding how your skincare products actually work. So here’s a deep dive into skin science to teach you how your skin absorbs beauty products. 

What Are the Different Layers of the Skin?

Believe it or not, but the skin is actually the body’s largest organ. It is made up of three different layers to offer protection to the body. The three different layers are the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. Let’s learn more about each one to gain a comprehensive understanding of this vital organ.


The outermost layer of the skin is known as the epidermis. This layer provides the body with water-resistant protection against potentially harmful substances such as bacteria, ultraviolet radiation, and environmental elements. 

The epidermis consists of four to five sublayers of closely packed cells that are responsible for the cell renewal process. Specifically, the epidermis contains specialized cells, including:  

  • Keratinocyte cells
  • Langerhans cells
  • Melanocyte cells
  • Squamous cells
  • Basal cells


The middle layer of the skin is known as the dermis. This layer contains important components, including the following:

  • Connective tissues
  • Hair follicles
  • Sweat and oil glands
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerve endings

All of these components are needed for healthy bodily functions. Furthermore, the dermis produces two essential proteins for skin health: collagen and elastin that maintain the firmness and elasticity of the skin. 


The innermost layer of the skin is known as the hypodermis. This layer contains the inner components like fats, connective tissues, blood vessels, and nerve cells. The blood vessels located in the hypodermis are connected to those throughout the rest of the body. Cells known as adipocytes are located within the hypodermis and are used to store fat for energy, cushioning, and insulation purposes. 

How Does the Skin Absorb Beauty Products?

Now that you know a bit more about the different layers of the skin, let’s talk about how these layers absorb beauty products. There are three different types of absorption, such as: 

  • Intercellular
  • Intracellular
  • Follicular

Let’s explore each one in greater detail so that you can fully understand how beauty products are absorbed into the skin. 

Intercellular Absorption

Intercellular absorption occurs when substances are absorbed between the stratum corneum cells -- the outermost part of the epidermis. This layer consists of ceramides, cholesterol esters, and fatty acids. 

Generally speaking, oils usually experience intracellular absorption, whereas this layer would repel water-based substances. 

Intracellular Absorption

Intracellular absorption occurs when substances are absorbed through the stratum corneum. This layer consists of 15 to 20 dense layers of skin cells that are functionally dead. As a result, it is difficult for substances to absorb into the skin this way -- only very tiny molecules would be able to. 

Follicular Absorption

Follicular absorption occurs when substances are absorbed through existing openings within the skin. For example, pores and hair follicles extend from the outermost layers of the epidermis into the dermis. 

Even though you may think you have many pores and follicles, they only represent about 0.1% of the total surface area of the skin. As a result, follicular absorption usually isn’t the primary method of absorption of beauty products. 

What Gets Absorbed Into the Skin?

The odds are that more things are absorbed into your skin than you realize. Let’s learn more about some of the different things that are absorbed into the skin.

Beauty Products

Obviously, beauty products are absorbed into the skin -- that’s the whole point! Specifically, emollient and occlusive ingredients are added to skincare products to increase absorption rates. 

While these are both moisturizers, they differ in terms of composition and absorption. Emollients are typically thinner and more lightweight, like plant oils, than thicker and heavier occlusives like petroleum jelly. 


In an ideal world, our skin would only absorb the good stuff that we want going into our bodies. In reality, however, our skin also absorbs toxins and other harmful substances through these porous layers. 

The good news is that the skin is literally designed to keep these substances out. However, it’s not 100% effective -- especially when it comes to tiny particles that can easily make their way through the skin and into the body. Take oxybenzone, for example. This ingredient found in sunscreen is so tiny that it can penetrate the skin and show up in the bloodstream. 

Beauty Products That Deeply Penetrate the Skin

If you feel like your skincare routine isn’t working, you may need to reconsider your products and ingredients. Perhaps they aren’t penetrating the skin well enough! Here are some of the different beauty products that you can use to promote healthy skin.

Face wash

This skincare product is used to cleanse the skin and remove impurities such as makeup, dirt, and excess oils. The best face washes contain soothing and penetrating ingredients that are gentle enough to maintain the skin’s protective barrier yet effective enough to cleanse the skin thoroughly. 


This skincare product is used to tighten and purify the skin after cleansing. It also prepares the skin for the application of other skincare products. Although many toners may contain harsh ingredients like alcohol, you should instead look for more natural and gentle toners with ingredients like witch hazel. 

10 in 1 mist tonic


This skincare product is used to provide moisture and nourishment to the skin. Although the skin has natural mechanisms to help maintain its moisture levels, they need to be supplemented with a product based on your skin type. If you have dry skin, look for a thicker moisturizer, but look for a lightweight moisturizer if you have oily skin. 

hyaluronic acid water gel


This skincare product delivers highly concentrated ingredients based on specific skincare concerns. For instance, you may want to use a vitamin C serum if you have dark spots or hyperpigmentation. On the other hand, if you struggle with acne, you may want to use a niacinamide serum. 

vitamin C serum

Face oil

This skincare product provides extra moisture and protection to the skin. These oils are plant-based, natural, and gentle to the skin. Specifically, face oils like coconut oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, and rosehip seed oil are great products to incorporate into your skincare routine. 

How to Help Your Skincare Product Penetrate and Absorb Into the Skin

If you’re looking to maximize the benefits you’re getting from your skincare products by boosting absorption rates, here are some tips and tricks that you can try out: 

Choose the Right Ingredients

Many people assume that effective skincare has to contain harsh or synthetic chemicals -- but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, gentle and natural ingredients are better for the skin and are easily absorbed. 

Specifically, components like organic soy lecithin help water-based skincare ingredients better penetrate the skin. While some brands would use a synthetic ingredient, like propylene glycol, a natural approach can benefit the skin and boost absorption. 

Use the Right Combination

Sometimes skincare products can have a hard time penetrating the skin on their own. However, sometimes they can be combined for better penetration. Specifically, emulsions can be created by combining oils and water to increase skin absorption. 

To do this, you should first apply your water-based moisturizer before applying pure facial oil for the best possible absorption rates and results. 

Set the Right Temperature

Interestingly enough, temperature plays a major role in skin absorption. For instance, warm skin will better absorb skincare products than skin that is cold. 

This is often why skincare experts recommend using warm compresses or even steam to warm your skin and open your pores before applying your skincare products. 

Perform the Right Preparation

To get the best levels of penetration and absorption, you also need to prepare your skin properly. The best way to do this is through exfoliation. 

Exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the skin’s surface that tend to clog up the routes that your products take into your skin. In terms of exfoliation, there are two different kinds to choose from: chemical and physical

Chemical exfoliation involves acids that break the chemical bonds that hold the dead skin cells to the skin’s surface. Physical exfoliation involves using rough particles to physically scrub the dead skin cells off the skin’s surface.

Whichever method of exfoliation you choose, make sure to follow the product’s directions properly to avoid damaging the skin in the process. 

Final Thoughts on Skin Absorption

Now you’re well on your way towards a more effective skincare regimen. However, a good skincare regimen needs the right products. So check out the vegan, cruelty-free, and natural skincare products offered by WOW Skin Science


The Three Layers of Skin and Their Functions | FLDSCC

Investigation of Follicular and Non-Follicular Pathways | NCBI

Emulsion - an overview | Science Direct

Rahul Bhatia

Rahul is the published author of "Heads Or Tails" and Quora writer with over 1.6 million views. He is a keen observer who enjoys the simple joys of life. He strongly believes true beauty is not how beautiful your face is but how beautiful your heart is.

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