There are risks with super efficient delivery through the skin.
Q: I keep reading in another health newsletter about a “miracle” pain reliever called DMSO. Does it really work and is it safe?
A: There’s a lot of conflicting information, scientific and otherwise, about dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), an organic solvent. It’s used in manufacturing processes and is widely used in medical research to protect frozen tissues such as stem cells. It’s a potent free radical scavenger (antioxidant) and anti-inflammatory. Although it’s approved for medical use in dogs and horses, and is approved for treating interstitial cystitis in humans, the FDA has steadfastly refused to approve it for topical (skin) use in humans.
DMSO has a low toxicity rating and may very well be a “miracle” pain reliever and have many other beneficial uses, but its biggest plus is also its biggest minus—it quickly and super-effectively delivers substances through the skin and into the bloodstream, and magnifies or “potentiates” their effects. This can be beneficial in some situations, but potentially very harmful in others, and that’s likely why the research on DMSO is so contradictory.
DMSO’s super efficient through-the-skin delivery means that it has to be extremely pure to be safe. Any impurities or toxins present will be carried directly into the bloodstream. In addition, substances already on the skin when DMSO is applied, such as body lotions, will be carried into the blood.
Most body lotions are loaded with chemicals with potential toxicity. Let’s take, for example, two ingredients found in almost all body lotions—even those found in health food stores—PEG 100 stearate and methylparaben. The Environmental Working Group’s hazard rating of PEG 100 stearate is a 5 to 7 out of 10, with ten being the most toxic, and 7 to 10 considered a “high hazard.” The hazard score of methylparaben is an 8, again a high hazard ingredient.
Would you want those ingredients carried directly into your bloodstream and their effects magnified? How about cosmetics, cleaning products, fake fragrances (fakegrances), dish soap, pesticides, and whatever bacteria happen to be hanging around that day? This is just a short list of what is commonly found in a typical household. Human skin is designed to not carry substances easily into the body for good reason. Few substances found in nature find their way through the skin and into the bloodstream.
The extremely careful use of DMSO to treat crippling pain from diseases such as arthritis and bursitis may be justified, but it just doesn’t make sense for casual, everyday use for minor aches and pains.
For more information about what moves through the skin and into the blood, please read Health Risks Can be Skin Deep and Hormone Cream Transfer to Children, Pets and Partners.