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Can skin lotion make you fat? Episode 27

Can you get fat by using oily hair and skin care products? We break down the answer for you, step by step. Plus, you WON’T BELIEVE what Perry has to say about animal testing. Could this be our most controversial show ever?

Show notes

Beauty Science News:

We discuss the “Be Cruelty Free Bloggers” video where various beauty bloggers speak out against animal testing. Perry, not surprisingly, has a contrarian point of view.

Question of the week: Is your skin lotion making you fat?

Lisa says.. trying to get in shape for bikini season so of course I’m watching my diet. My trainer also says I should I should watch the amount of oil in my hair treatments and skin creams because they can get absorbed and my affect my weight loss results.

To answer Lisa’s question we look at the types of oils used in cosmetics, the amount of oil these cosmetics expose you to, and how much of this oil penetrates to your blood where it can be metabolized into fat.

Two types of oils most commonly used in hair and skincare products

Hydrocarbon oils, like mineral oil, are not metabolized and stored as fat. They pass through your body undigested. Small amounts may be retained (2% in case of mineral oil)

Plant oils, like grain oils (corn) fruit oils (olive oil, coconut oil) nut and seed oils (almond, grape seed oil) do have some nutritional value meaning they can be metabolized and ultimately stored as fat. For the sake of discussion, let’s just assume all the oils used skin products are these plant oils. (ASSUMPTION : All of the oils in cosmetics are plant oils, in reality they are not.)

How much oil is in a typical skin care product?

This varies greatly from product to product. For example some massage oil could be 100% oil. But for the most commonly used product which would be lotions where the percent of oil is rather low probably on the order of maybe 5% or 10%. So let’s just assume the average product oil content is on the high side and say that 25%. (ASSUMPTION: The average oil content of cosmetics is 25% when it’s probably closer to 5 or 10%)

How much product do you apply?

First, only consider leave on products because rinse off products don’t have time to penetrate. Some products like a face cream, you only use a fraction of an ounce per day. Others like sunscreen, or all over body lotion you should use an ounce or more. Let’s say you use 4 ounces a day. (ASSUMPTION: 4 ounces per day is average, could be much lower.)

How much oil is deposited on your skin each day?

4 ounces of product @ 25% oil = 1 ounce of oil per day.

How much oil is absorbed into your blood

According to one study researchers applied safflower oil cream to patients daily for 5 weeks, then measured blood levels of linoleic acid. (A main component of safflower oil.) Of the total 5300 mg applied to skin approximately 2000 mg had entered the blood. (A little less than 50% was absorbed.)

That means in our analysis, you could absorb 50% of 1 ounce of oil or about 0.5 ounces of oil per day. (ASSUMPTION: All oils will absorb as much as linoleic which is not true.)

Could this much oil affect your diet?

Let’s assume that 100% of that 0.5 ounce of safflower oil is treated as fat. How many calories would be added to your diet?
Calories in Safflower oil = 250 calories/ounce. Therefore, 0.5 ounce of safflower oil = 125 calories

(ASSUMPTION: All plant oils are rich in high calorie, polyunsaturated fats which they are not. Olive oil for example contains only about 15% compared to 70% for safflower.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

If you use a lot of plant oil containing cosmetics, the MOST calories you could expect to add to your diet is about 100 day. (Considering all our assumptions could be about 1/10 of this figure or 10 calories. So if it’s in range of 10 to 100 there’s nothing for Lisa to worry about.

Skin absorption of safflower oil: Am J Clin Nutr September 1987 vol. 46 no. 3 419-423

Calories in Safflower oil

Fatty acid content of oils

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eileen April 22, 2014, 12:22 pm

    I bet you Brains have a ball debunking some of the absurdities that are bandied about. Oil in cosmetics/skincare making us fat? LOL! I guess some fitness professionals are just so desperate to find a reason for their clients’ weight gain or problems losing weight that they come up with all kinds of nonsense. Perhaps that ill-informed trainer should just advise people to eat one less cookie 🙂

    Anyway, as silly as was that trainer’s idea, your response was actually very interesting. The next time I’m tempted to soak in a vat of oil all day, I’ll remember that trainer’s sage advice, think about your response, and eat one less cookie! By the way, does anyone know how many calories are in “sage” advice? LOL

    • Randy Schueller April 22, 2014, 1:41 pm

      Thanks Eileen, it IS fun debunking all the pseudoscientific crap that’s out there.

      And by the way, sage advice is very lo-cal unless you sautee the sage in olive oil first.

  • Tony Maleedy April 22, 2014, 5:05 pm

    Brains AND entertainment … nice. Thanks Guys.

    • Randy Schueller April 22, 2014, 8:13 pm

      Thanks Tony. If we can entertain YOU then I know we’re doing something right!

  • Christina April 22, 2014, 6:12 pm

    I sleep in Sweet Almond Oil as a nightly moisturizer. It has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and repairs while is lighter mollecularly.

    I only tend to notice weight gain when I eat an entire box of Girl Scout cookies..which happens more frequently than I’d like to admit.

    I am pro oil and cookies! 🙂

    • Randy Schueller April 22, 2014, 8:12 pm

      Christina: What’s your favorite flavor? Mine’s Samoas (aka Caramel deLites.)

      • Christina April 22, 2014, 9:14 pm

        Samoas are easily the most amazing.

        I recently have reignited my love for Thin Mints..frozen. They must be in the freezer for at least 24 hours. Mind blowing.

        A body care line featuring Girl Scout Cookies? Count me in. Oil & Cookies for everyone!

  • Victoria April 22, 2014, 7:24 pm

    Thank you for this informative article. I would gladly add 125 calories a day in order to maintain my relatively wrinkle-free, smooth skin.

  • shelly April 23, 2014, 12:52 am

    If you really think about it, “cruelty-free” brands already benefit from animal testing by proxy, given that virtually every ingredient in cosmetics has been tested on animals at some point. And some cosmetics have ingredients that are animal by-products, IIRC. (Beeswax, carmine (for red pigment), to name a couple.)

    Meaning the only real way to go cruelty-free is to stop wearing makeup, stop using skincare, stop using haircare, etc.

    As far as I’m concerned, if one is concerned about animal welfare, there are more effective ways to do something about it than boycotting certain cosmetic companies — support no-kill shelters, buy meat from local sources, adopt pets instead of buying them from a pet store, don’t support PETA (ugh, don’t get me started on them).

    • Hadel Toma May 16, 2018, 4:29 am

      Watch earthlings documentary free on youtube . Local or not, not cows, pigs or chickens wants to be murdered for your taste buds or your diet or any other excuse. If you support these cruelty companies that torture animal for you loving humans, you are to blame, the consumer spending the money dictates what they do or wont do.

  • Ellen April 23, 2014, 8:29 am

    What a crock of bullsh…t!!

  • Stacy April 23, 2014, 10:00 am

    @shelly- I feel the same way!

  • david January 8, 2015, 4:41 pm

    I know women who put 4-8 ounces of body lotion every day. This changes the health risk assessment significantly. While it is hard to follow… assuming your 50% to blood (remember skin can metabolize fat too), and 25% Fat content then 4 ounces would mean 28.3g/ounce x 4.0 ounces x 0.25 content of fat = 28.3 g fat which means 9 calories/g or 254 calories daily. Now we are talking a serious health risk because you do not even think this can happen.

    Furthermore, if the 10-100 cal is all palmitic or lauric acid as you find in coconut and palm oil (almost every lotion out there is one of these because this give the biggest profit margin), then you are adding 1-10g saturated fatty acids to your metabolism a day.

    Is there a nutritionist out there who thinks it is healthy to add .7-7lbs of saturated fat to your diet on a yearly basis?

    Please correct me if you can.

    • Randy Schueller January 8, 2015, 5:18 pm

      Thanks for the thoughts David. A couple of followup questions: Where did you get your info that “almost every lotion out there” contains coconut or palm oil. Second, do you have data to show these two oils penetrate skin, because I’m not sure they do.

  • Tona Aspsusa March 16, 2015, 7:49 am

    Fascinating discussion – but I do wonder if one can calculate a usuable nutritional value for oils (or anything else) absorbed through the skin. Probably not, otherwise people who can’t eat or digest food would get fed through the skin instead of IV. If it worked It would probably be even better than feeding tubes – slathering on a nutrient cream would surely carry fewer risks than breaking the skin anywhere…

    So I think we can safely assume that transdermal nutrition just doesn’t work.

  • Karen December 7, 2015, 8:24 pm

    Thanks for the great information. Love, love, love the podcast!!! It’s my favorite! So I have a different question regarding absorption of oil through skin and how that might impact cholesterol levels. I have secondary lymphedema from the removal of 32 lymph nodes in the pelvic area when I had cancer 13 years ago. (They were simply removed to test the spread if the cancer; none were positive). Anyhoo, in order to maintain my skin, especially with the lymphedema, I slather my entire body with straight up oil. I make a blend from rosehip seed oil and red raspberry seed oil (sometimes I add in sea buckthorn berry seed oil and other fruit seed oils that are high in lineoleic acid.) I do use about an ounce or more a day. I am not worried about weight gain (I’m female, size 0 pants), but my cholesterol level was surprisingly high (over 300) at my last doctor visit, that the doctor wanted to put me on a statin. (I am not doing that as my own research indicates that the HDL/Cholesterol ratio and the Triglyceride/HDL ratio are both fine.)

    I have not changed my diet (eat a healthy, balance diet and try to avoid highly processed food), my weight never changes and I exercise regularly. The only thing that’s different over the last year is that I started this oil routine (which actually does wonders for my skin). Any thoughts about the possibility of transdermal application of fruit seed oils (used at higher than normal dose) impacting cholesterol levels? Thanks for any insights.

  • Brenda June 16, 2016, 1:10 pm

    I would love to know that answer as well since I too do a similar regime nightly & my LDL levels have risen, however my HDL are also quite high.
    My diet is very healthy but I am not a sz 0. I do care about excess weight but overall gain evenly & do not look fat. Exercise but have picked up more exercise since receiving my #’s.

  • Tina October 10, 2016, 8:40 pm

    Thank you Randy for your example and info! Very intriguing! But I also want to thank Brenda and Karen for posting thier questions. I thought I was grasping at staws to find a culprit but grateful others have same concern. I look forward to any further insights.

    I too, eat fairly healthy, am in decent shape, active, and have gradually gotten higher cholesterol the healthier i try to be. I eat lots of foods recommended for ‘low cholesterol’ diets and am looking into my hereditary connection but still feel like it might just be something I am doing(or not doing) that is making my #’s soar.

    I am a Massage Therapist (14yrs) and I use 100% organic cold expeller pressed unrefined virgin coconut oil for my massage work for the past 6yrs. I wonder if it can be adding to my cholesterol count?

    I do beleive absorption occurs, THAT is WHY I switched from commercially available products. I discovered so many of them had petrolium based ingredients, and I felt that was not in-line with my purpose of providing holistic ways to encourage the body to heal nad detoxify itself. But am I suffering from that choice? Could my oil chpice be a contributing factor in the increase of my LDL over years of using what I thought was a healthy oil? :/

    Thank you in advance for your insights.

  • Ria January 12, 2017, 1:39 am

    I’ve been on a strict diet recently but not been able to lose any weight. Found out, it’s due to my coconut oil massage into my hands and body each night. Prior to this, my dieting always bought me results…

    • Charley May 15, 2017, 2:44 am

      For anyone reading this, coconut oil is incredible. It has a numbing effect & is a fantastic moisturiser. I cook with it. I wipe the spoon off after dishing it out & rub it in to dry spots. I put a tsp in my lemsip to ease a sore throat & a tsp in my chamomile tea before bed. In short I get through far more than someone who uses a hand cream. Here’s the best bit: I’ve lost weight & improved migraines since doing this & have low cholesterol. The idea that eating fats make you fat is outmoded & frankly anyone blaming weight gain on a hand or body lotion either has an underlying condition or is in denial about their diet/exercise!

  • Rhonda February 7, 2018, 6:52 am

    Hi, thank you for very helpful information and for the website as a whole. I would like to add to the reader’s concerns about oil absorption on the skin. I have been using organic coconut oil as an all over body moisturizer for the past six months because I read of the benefits of doing so. I eat a healthy diet low in carbs and sugars, high in protein and greens. I work out 5 days per week doing intensive weight training and cardio. Yet I am seeing an increase in fat. I have dissected everything, and the addition of coconut oil is the only change that I can see in my lifestyle or “diet.” Can you advise me on whether or not using that much coconut oil daily could be what’s causing this? Thank you so much for any information.

    • Perry Romanowski April 3, 2018, 9:07 am

      There is no reason to believe you are getting an increase in fat because of using coconut oil on your skin. Most people as they get older will gain some weight. It has to do with genetics and hormones.

  • Myia April 29, 2020, 4:11 am

    Thank u for this…still relevant in 2020.