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Matt DeMinico 06-01-2007 07:31 AM

Does anyone know if it's possible for humans to absorb (in any significant amount) oxygen directly through the skin? Either oxygen directly from the air, or a substance that is easily absorbed into the skin (a liquid compound for example)? I'm curious because insects do just that, and it's much faster than human absorbtion through lungs and transport to the body via blood.

Seth Hollen 06-01-2007 08:54 AM

some compounds can absorb through the skin, but not enough O2 to live on.
that's what your heart and lungs are for.

Tom Fetter 06-01-2007 09:51 AM

Works as respiration for bugs, but not people. Our surface area to volume ratio is wrong.

Yes, folks can absorb various things through the skin ... mercury comes to mind, along with various nerve agents. Some pesticides and herbicides too. Depending on the substance, it can be a great way of getting poisoned.

Craig Van De Walker 06-01-2007 11:41 AM

No it is not possible in any significant amount.

#1 Skin is too thick many layers of cells and the outmost are dead and dried out campared to what they were as live cells (look at a cross section in an anatomy text)

#2 Suface area is way too small an adult has a skin BSA (body surface area) of about 2 square meters.

Alveoli in our lungs by comparison are one cell thick and the capilaries are so fine blood cells pass by single file. The cells are also coated at all times with surfactant which keeps the cells pliable with the correct surface tension so these very specialized alveoli (oxygen and CO2 exchange units) function correctly.

The lungs contain about 300 million alveoli, representing a total surface area of 70-90 square metres, each wrapped in a fine mesh of capillaries.

The alveoli have a wall thicknesses of about 0.2 µm. (Normal skin thickness usually should be between 0.8 mm to 3.0 mm.)

So I would say the skin is about 500-1500 times thicker and has only about 0.025 as much surface area so it could absorb roughly 0.0025% as much oxygen as skin.

I did not double check my data so I could be off by a factor of 10 or more but does that even really matter? Don't even get me started on "oxygenated water"

Craig Van De Walker 06-01-2007 11:47 AM

BTW as far as insect respiration From the NC State University General Entomology ENT 425 (ain't the internet great)

" The respiratory system of insects (and many other arthropods) is separate from the circulatory system. It is a complex network of tubes (called a tracheal system) that delivers oxygen-containing air to every cell of the body.

Air enters the insect's body through valve-like openings in the exoskeleton. These openings (called spiracles) are located laterally along the thorax and abdomen of most insects -- usually one pair of spiracles per body segment. Air flow is regulated by small muscles that operate one or two flap-like valves within each spiracle -- contracting to close the spiracle, or relaxing to open it.

After passing through a spiracle, air enters a longitudinal tracheal trunk, eventually diffusing throughout a complex, branching network of tracheal tubes that subdivides into smaller and smaller diameters and reaches every part of the body. At the end of each tracheal branch, a special cell (the tracheole) provides a thin, moist interface for the exchange of gasses between atmospheric air and a living cell. Oxygen in the tracheal tube first dissolves in the liquid of the tracheole and then diffuses into the cytoplasm of an adjacent cell. At the same time, carbon dioxide, produced as a waste product of cellular respiration, diffuses out of the cell and, eventually, out of the body through the tracheal system."

Matt DeMinico 06-01-2007 09:02 PM

Heh... it's good to have someone like Craig around for questions such as these.

I was just thinking something like an oxygen supersaturated paste or cream or something that would quickly be absorbed into the skin somehow, increasing surface contact, and... oh I dunno... it just sounded cool. And the reason I ask is someone mentioned bugs can transfer something like 100 times as much oxygen into their bodies per their size than humans can.

Skylar Cook 06-02-2007 06:41 AM

Nah, won't happen... The only animals that truly respire solely through their skin/outer layer of cells are extremely small, e.g. annelids (earthworms and such) and smaller; lots of them are also water-dwelling. All (most) other animals have specialized respiratory organs/systems (yes, even insects- the trachea Craig mentioned). "Oxygen supersaturated paste" is not going to happen- firstly because gas solubility in liquid is virtually zero under atmospheric pressure, and even if it were kept under pressure, as soon as you opened the container the gas would bubble out of the mixture (maybe a fraction of a second that it would actually be supersaturated); and secondly, because you wouldn't absorb much oxygen through your skin. Now if you were in a hyperbaric chamber with that same paste...

But yeah, it'd be cool if it worked.

Matt DeMinico 06-02-2007 08:52 PM

You can supersaturate things (use a higher pressure and saturate something that requrires a "trigger" to release its gases), it's just that when that trigger happens, it's going to come out FAST.

I dunno, I was just thinking like an oxidizer or something, I dunno. But it doesn't matter cause it wouldn't be beneficial anyhow huh?

Paul Findley 06-02-2007 09:34 PM

I just want a pack of oxy gum.

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