Can You Absorb Nutrients Through Your Skin?

With transdermal nutrition, you slap on a patch and don't need that vitamin reminder. But do these products really deliver or are they a waste of money?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #465

image of vitamins and potential vitamin supplement patches

When we think about taking nutrients into our bodies, we usually think about swallowing them, in the form of pills, powders, or that radical format known as food. For that matter, when we talk about nutrient absorption, we’re usually talking about the absorption of nutrients from the digestive system into the bloodstream.

But a handful of companies are trying to change the way we think about nutritional supplementation. Instead of swallowing a handful of pills and worrying about whether or not they are being absorbed, why not bypass the digestive tract altogether and apply them directly to your skin?

Nicotine, estrogen, testosterone, and certain pain medications can all be delivered through the skin through medicinal patches, gels, or creams. Why not vitamins and minerals?

Are Nutrient Patches the Future?

The US military, for example, is working on a skin patch that could deliver nutrients and other compounds to soldiers “during periods of high-intensity conflict,” when getting adequate nutrition from food might be challenging. Scientists working on the project don’t expect to have anything ready for field testing for another ten years or so.

But you don’t have to wait for those fusty old scientists to dot every i and cross every t. There are companies who will take your money RIGHT NOW for patches, gels, and bath salts containing magnesium, vitamin D, CoQ10, and various other herbs and nutrients that claim to alleviate nutrient deficiencies, boost your energy, and (of course) help you lose weight.

However, I’m skeptical that any of these substances will actually end up in your bloodstream. And you should be too.

Your Skin is Tougher Than You Think

The skin is actually designed to be a fairly impenetrable barrier. And good thing, too. Imagine for just a moment if everything that touched your skin ended up in your bloodstream!

Lotions and cosmetic potions often tout their vitamin-drenched formulas. And while these nutrients may (or, then again, may not) have cosmetic effects on the surface of the skin, very little if any of those nutrients are penetrating beyond the skin’s surprisingly tough outer layers.

That’s why we can slather our skin with mineral-based sunscreens all summer long without developing a zinc overload! Studies have shown that the topical application of zinc-containing sunscreens has minimal if any impact on the amount of zinc in your blood.


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