Your skin can only absorb a percentage of what is placed on it topically, the level of which is depending on formulation type, desired function of the product and the ingredient structure, it's molecular size & the use of penetration enhancers.
Of course certain types of skin products such as serums are developed with the purpose that certain ingredients contained are able to function on a deeper level or to a maximised capacity, whilst others such as moisturisers mean that ingredients will be better utilised remaining at the very surface level.
It is difficult for most ingredients to enter beyond the surface of the skin for a number of reasons, mainly due to the natural barrier defence, the skin's main function is protective, so this limits and prevents absorbtion of potentially toxic material that we come into contact with daily.
When the skin is compromised either through unintentional damage, condition or a controlled damage as with certain professional treatments, then the absorption rate increases and the careful selection of products and the avoidance of using certain triggers to limit further reaction or to worsen the sensitised condition becomes necessary.
When taking a look into pharmaceutical delivery systems it's easy to see that the accurate delivery of drugs through cutaneous application is not without many challenges and therefore also makes it easier to understand why cosmetics, with a different purpose, contain different percentages of certain ingredients, allowing consideration for permeability of ingredients, safety concerns and allergic risk potential and are subject to different regulations.
Most ingredients are neither desired or need to be deeply absorbed by the skin, to do so may even be of detriment, cosmetics are topical products designed to make skin improvements but not to treat a disease or specific condition unlike pharmaceuticals, however when choosing a product range that states results driven for skin improvements then it is of course important that high quality ingredients are selected and the concentrations of those ingredients are optimised, in most cases a highest percentage does not automatically equate to being a better function, rather that any 'active' ingredients that are included within a formula are in their maximised percentage in order to perform a required function and can work in synergy with others in order to achieve the end desired cosmetic result and taking into consideration the support of long term skin health without causing irritation.
It is important for a skin professional to explain these differences, including offering perspective to certain claims and information beyond what some clients believe at face value to be better, such as with ingredients like collagen, that despite often being promoted as otherwise, performs a limited function in skincare of conditioning the surface layer and has no bearing on stimulating our own collagen.
The same applies to retinols, hyaluronic acid, vitamin c and many other ingredients that not only have multiple forms, where essentially the same ingredient can offer very different benefits and require different considerations such as to percentage added, compatability with other ingredients, different action of delivery when applied to the skin and that each can offer very different skin benefits.
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