It is not uncommon to get bombarded by countless advertisements today on oils, lotions, ointments, and cosmetics, all saying that you should do one thing: allow your skin to breathe. That sounds interesting, but the question here is that does the skin truly breathe? Can the skin take up life-giving oxygen on its own?
The fact is that it is biologically impossible for your skin to breathe in the air as a human being. This is because the skin is not evolved to be a respiratory organ. But it has to be said that the skin can absorb other things apart from air. These include fat-soluble and vital substances like vitamins A (carotenoids), D, E, and vitamin K.
It can also absorb hormones like estrogen. This explains the effects of the hormone on women in the menopause phase using estrogen patches; the same mechanism provides relief for smokers trying to stop the habit with nicotine patches. Hence you can see that even though the skin cannot breathe like the lungs, it does have the capacity to absorb some substances.
The skin and the other parts like the nails and hair made from keratin jointly made up what is called the integumentary system, which acts mainly as a cover. This explains the skin’s principal function, which is to serve as a cover for the internal organs. The skin protects the internal organs from the external environment.
The skin is not designed to help us breathe even though it is the largest organ in the body, making up as much as 15% of the body weight. The skin also helps in the regulation of temperature and reception of sensations.
The respiratory system carries out breathing. Through the respiratory system, we can get oxygen into the blood and get rid of carbon dioxide. Inhalation allows for the intake of oxygen through the nose and mouth and into the lungs. When the oxygen gets into the lungs, it flows into the blood via the vessels like the arteries. The carbon dioxide is exhaled into the external air from the lungs, and the process repeats itself.
Myths of the Air-Breathing Skin
Even though the respiration system is responsible for taking in oxygen, some people believe that the skin can do the same, no thanks to relentless adverts from cosmetic companies. Cosmetic brands go as far as saying that their products can let the skin breathe. But they do not mean that the skin can breathe in air through its pores.
What they are referring to is that the creams and cosmetics are non-comedogenic. This implies that their products do not block the skin pores. This means that acne does not form, and hence, there is no suffocation. Some cosmetic brands further push the claim and state that their items have oxygen that can be taken up by the skin.
As your skin is not a respiratory organ, consultant dermatologists have sounded a note of warning against this dangerous claim. Movies have also contributed to the idea that skin can take up oxygen, but this is false.
It Is Possible With Animals
Even though human skin cannot breathe in oxygen, it must be stated that some animals have this ability. These include amphibians like frogs and earthworms because they have skin that allows for the passage of gases. Amphibians have lungs like other animals too, but they depend on their skin mainly for breathing; the skin is well suited for this purpose. The skin is very moist, and the animal itself has to live in humid or wet regions. That is an essential factor for it.
There is only one mammal that can temporarily breathe using its skin, and that is the Julia Creek dunnart. It is a marsupial mouse seen in Australia, and it can breathe using its skin during the first two or three weeks of life. However, once its lungs are capable, the breathing is no longer done using the skin. It can be stated that mammals are not suited for breathing using the skin, so the cosmetic companies should be realistic in their pursuit of customers and profits.