Whether it’s swapping leggings for bike shorts or ditching hot coffees for refreshing iced teas, people tend to prefer lightweight items during the warmer months of the year. And that goes for skin care too.
“During the summer, you want products that are lightweight, penetrate well, and don’t clog the top layers of skin,” says Julie Russak, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Generally, to achieve these three goals, a skincare product must be quickly absorbed.
Although the term is used quite frequently in the skincare world – especially at this time of year when “quick absorption” is synonymous with avoiding a sticky, clammy complexion – but what it actually means is often unexplained. With that in mind, we spoke with two dermatologists and two cosmetic chemists to find out what makes for a fast-absorbing product, as well as why these products are especially beneficial in the summer. Keep reading to learn more.
The rapid absorption difference
If you’ve ever applied a face moisturizer or body lotion that refused to penetrate, you may have found that not all formulas are created equal when it comes to skin penetration. “Our skin is not a sponge where whatever is applied gets absorbed,” says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants.
Much of it comes down to molecular sizing. “In general, larger molecules stay above the skin, while smaller molecules can penetrate deeper into the skin,” she explains.
Additionally, how a product is formulated also comes into play. “For actives in a formula, those with better skin compatibility will be absorbed the fastest,” says Nick Dindio, cosmetic chemist and director of research and development of SOS Beauty. For this reason, many ingredients are encapsulated in liposomes, which are made of the same phospholipids as our cell membranes, to help optimize delivery.
Skincare ingredients that absorb faster
First and foremost, Dindio says it’s important to differentiate between actual product absorption and user absorption. Perception absorption. “Many products that contain a high level of volatile ingredients may appear to absorb quickly, but in reality, they just evaporate,” he explains.
Koestline addresses this, specifically calling out oil-free and alcohol-based products. “The reason many oil-free products feel like they absorb into the skin faster is because they evaporate faster,” she says. “There is no heavy occlusive ingredient to create this barrier, instead they use film-forming ingredients to moisturize the skin. Sometimes light products even include drying alcohol because it evaporates quickly on the skin, making it feel like your skin absorbs it instantly.
While oil-free products can certainly be beneficial, especially for combination and oily skin types, and especially during the warmer months of the year, Koestline goes on to say that oil-containing products (like jojoba oil, rosehip seed oil, evening primrose oil, sea buckthorn oil, tamanu oil, and grapeseed oil) can penetrate the skin faster than ‘alternative.
“The sebum in our skin is made up of oils, fatty acids and cholesterol,” she explains. “That’s why when it comes to fast-absorbing products, contrary to popular belief, lightweight oils are your best friend – oil-soluble (or lipophilic) products and emulsions penetrate the skin more easily. skin than water-based ingredients.” That doesn’t mean oil-free products are automatically ineffective, though. It’s more that if you go oil-free, you need to make sure your product is boosted for fast absorption in another way.
For example, look for fermented ingredients. “Fermented ingredients are attracting more and more interest because one theory is that the fermentation process breaks molecules down into smaller sizes, allowing for better and faster penetration,” says Koestline.
Additionally, Russak says hydrophilic ingredients (like hyaluronic acid and herbal extracts like rosemary) tend to be more effective in terms of rapid absorption. “Hydrophilic ingredients are those that are attracted to water and can penetrate through layers of fat, as opposed to hydrophobic ingredients, which are rejected by fat molecules,” she explains.
As for the specific ingredients. Dindio says lecithin is a common ingredient used to encapsulate actives and help them penetrate deep into the skin. “There are other penetration enhancers such as ethoxydiglycol and dimethylisosorbide that are commonly used in prestige products to help ingredients like vitamin C absorb,” he adds. The concentration of active ingredients is also worth mentioning. “The higher the concentration of active ingredients, the better the product will penetrate,” says Russak.
How to Make Skin Care Products Absorb Better
While added formulations and ingredients definitely increase a product’s ability to absorb faster, Russak points out that healthy skin will absorb any product much better. “For a product to be absorbed through the skin, it must penetrate the skin’s protective barrier, or the top layer of the skin,” he says. “The skin is designed to be a barrier, so it doesn’t allow products to penetrate. Skin absorption is actually a very complicated science – we want to increase penetration so that products can penetrate the deep layers of the skin where the product works best, but we also expect to maintain the competence of the protective barrier and not to disturb her.
The trick? Exfoliation. “Not an exfoliation where you disrupt the skin’s barrier, but an exfoliation where you remove dead layers and stimulate regeneration,” says Russak. “[When we do this]there are healthy cells on the surface of the skin that can absorb the active ingredients.
Beyond exfoliation, board-certified dermatologist and Mohs Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgeon Dr. Sheila Farhang says starting your skincare routine with a moistened complexion can help your products, especially those with hyaluronic acid, to sink deeper.
Additionally, she calls slugging a helpful way to speed up the absorption of any product. “The absorption of a product also increases if an occlusive, such as petroleum jelly or petroleum jelly, is used on the product,” she explains. That said, as beneficial as slugging is, Russak admits it’s not the most practical application in the summer. Instead, she advises focusing your routine on encapsulated active ingredients, which will ensure they travel deep into your skin instead of sitting on it.
Finally, how you apply your skincare can make your serums and creams more effective. “Using a dermaroller or Gua Sha on your product can also increase absorption,” says Farhang.
Shop pro-approved, fast-absorbing skincare
Covey Next Up Vitamin C Serum — $59.00
Made with a 15% concentration of Vitamin C in its most stable form, THD Ascorbate, this serum is 50 times more potent than other formulations on the market. Plus, it includes vitamin E and grape seed extract to boost antioxidant benefits to brighten and preserve skin.
Kopari Ultra Restore Body Butter with Hyaluronic Acid — $32.00
This super lightweight whipped lotion is made with hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, omegas and fatty acids that hydrate your skin and help it retain moisture. It has Kopari’s signature sweet coconut milk scent with notes of jasmine and tuberose neroli.
Revision Skincare Line Revox Relaxer — $145.00
Composed of eight peptides, hyaluronic acid and arnica, this anti-wrinkle serum minimizes the impact of facial expressions that cause the appearance of horizontal and vertical lines. It’s great on its own, but it’s also designed to work in conjunction with neuromodulators like Botox to visibly reduce wrinkles.
DS Laboratories Pure Vitamin C Serum — $69.00
This powerful serum combines two forms of vitamin C – 25% ethylated L-ascorbic acid and 10% tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate – making it the highest concentration of vitamin C available on the market. It’s made in a waterless formula that keeps it clear and powerful. It’s also made with sustainable organic olive-derived squalane and vitamin E for more intense brightening and rejuvenation.
SkinCeuticals B5 Hydrating Gel — $86.00
This moisturizing gel combines vitamin B5 with hyaluronic acid to help bind moisture to the skin. It can be used with moisturizer on most skin types or alone for oily, acne-prone skin.
Biophile Bio-Shroom Rejuvenating Serum — $74.00
This concentrated serum contains a nutrient-rich blend of three mushrooms that provide adaptogenic support for stressed skin. Plus, it contains niacinamide, vitamin C and peptides to rejuvenate the skin as well as a matrix of bio-hydrators to provide plumping hydration.
Sweet Chef Celery + Hyaluronic Acid Serum Shot — $20.00
Get a picture of your vegetables with this serum. It’s made with a blend of broccoli, alfalfa, cabbage, wheat, bok choy and radish to soothe and nourish the skin. The star ingredients, however, are antioxidant-rich cold-pressed celery and hyaluronic acid to provide intense hydration.
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