Do Vitamin Patches Really Deliver Nutrients Through Skin?
You may have seen ads for vitamin patches or noticed them popping up in health stores and pharmacies. Marketers claim vitamin patches deliver nutrients more efficiently than traditional oral supplements.
Bypassing your digestive system and going straight through the skin sounds too good to be true! So do transdermal vitamin patches actually work as claimed?
In this article, we’ll dig into the evidence on:
- How vitamin patches are designed to work
- The science on nutrient absorption through skin
- Which vitamins may be suited to patch delivery
- Pros and cons of vitamin patches
- The health conditions vitamin patches help treat
- Safety considerations for vitamin patches
- How to choose an effective, quality vitamin patch
Read on to get the real facts on this intriguing new method of nutrient supplementation.
How Do Vitamin Patches Work?
Like nicotine patches, vitamin patches are designed to continuously deliver vitamins, minerals and other compounds through the skin over a period of time. Here’s the basic concept behind vitamin patch technology:
The patch contains a concentrated solution of vitamins and other nutrients specifically formulated for transdermal delivery. An adhesive backing affixes the patch to a thin area of skin like the forearm, behind the ear, or neck.
The nutrients are encapsulated using liposomes, micro-spheres, nano-spheres or other transfer mechanisms to facilitate absorption through skin layers. As the patch adheres to skin, the encapsulated vitamins are meant to penetrate into the many blood vessels right under the skin, enter circulation, and provide sustained release of nutrients into the bloodstream over 6-24 hours.
This bypasses the GI tract which proponents argue eliminates issues with nutrient breakdown, malabsorption, and limited bioavailability of oral vitamins. The sustained release effect also maintains more consistent nutrient levels compared to taking traditional supplements at scattered intervals.
But what does the science actually say about whether nutrient-laced patches can “feed” your body through skin as claimed? Let’s weigh the evidence.
Can Vitamins Really Be Absorbed Through Skin?
The complex anatomy of skin makes it an unlikely portal for moving sizable amounts of vitamins and minerals into circulation. Here are some major barriers:
Outermost Skin Layer
The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of skin. Its dense matrix of keratinized cells and lipids is designed to keep things from penetrating in or escaping out. Environmental barriers like sweat, sebum and debris make permeation even more difficult.
Lack of Blood Supply
Unlike the GI tract which is highly vascularized, the epidermis and dermis have far fewer blood vessels. The ones that exist are positioned deeper under the thick outer skin layer. Vitamins must migrate down this avascular zone before reaching capillaries for absorption.
The skin barrier selectively allows absorption of only certain substances like topical steroids. Transporters for most vitamins have not been identified in skin.
Skin contains enzymes that degrade and inactivate various compounds applied topically. Vitamins and nutrients may not withstand these enzymes to reach blood vessels intact.
Particles that do penetrate skin are largely picked up by the lymphatic system which is slow-moving compared to circulatory blood flow. Absorption still occurs, but is prolonged.
Given these obstacles, most experts believe healthy intact skin likely allows only minimal vitamin absorption. However, there are a few factors that may improve nutrient uptake.
Maximizing Vitamin Penetration Through Skin
While challenging, there are some tactics patch makers employ to enhance penetration:
Using super-tiny nano-sized vitamins a few billionths of a meter in diameter allows them to more readily absorb into skin. But safety concerns exist over nanoparticles.
Certain botanical oils and compounds like menthol, phospholipids, and liposomes temporarily disrupt skin lipids to allow vitamins through. But this may also admit harmful agents.
Well-hydrated skin has been shown to more readily take up nutrients. Water expands porous passageways.
Covering a patch with clothing or dressing prevents water loss and evaporation through skin, increasing absorption.
Nutrients may penetrate thin underarm and neck skin better than dense soles or palms. But this skin is more sensitive.
Any compromise to skin integrity – cuts, burns, rashes – enable far greater nutrient uptake compared to intact skin. But this also raises infection risks.
While vitamin patches likely can’t yet “feed” our bodies adequate nutrition all on their own, the technology has potential when optimized.
Vitamins Best Suited to Transdermal Delivery
Even if a patch doesn’t deliver 100% of a vitamin through skin, certain vitamins appear better suited to topical application than others:
Because B12 plays a key role in nerve conduction, deficiency symptoms like numbness and tingling can manifest in skin and extremities. This makes supplemental B12 well-positioned for transdermal absorption targeted where needed.
Our skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV sunlight. This makes vitamin D a natural fit for re-absorption back through skin from topical preparations.
Used by the body for blood coagulation, vitamin K also readily absorbs through skin when applied topically. Bruise-prone individuals may benefit.
Due to its antioxidant properties, vitamin C is common in skincare products as it penetrates skin well and supports collagen formation. Vitamin C patches could confer similar skin benefits.
One study found transdermal magnesium was absorbed effectively and raised blood levels similarly to oral magnesium supplements.
More research is needed, but science supports the potential of patches for delivering select micronutrients like these where they’re needed.
Now let’s examine the upsides and downsides of going the patch route.
Potential Benefits of Vitamin Patches
Assuming development continues to improve transdermal nutrient delivery, vitamin patches do offer certain advantages:
Bypass GI Tract
Absorbing nutrients via skin skips potential breakdown or malabsorption in the GI tract experienced by some with oral supplements. More consistent dosing may result.
Nutrients absorbed through the thin dermis directly enter rich capillary beds, allowing faster delivery to the bloodstream than wending through long intestinal villi.
Patches slowly deliver a continuous supply of nutrients over 6-24 hours rather than the transient spike from taking an oral capsule. This maintains steady vitamin levels.
Patches go where you go – to work, gym or travel. No need to remember multiple pills. Just stick on a patch and go about your day.
Set and Forget
After applying a patch, you don’t have to think about it again for 6-24 hours. No carrying around or remembering to take portable pills.
Many dislike having to take pills publicly. Patches blend in discreetly. You can take your “medication” without anyone noticing.
Some experience GI side effects like nausea from high-dose oral vitamins. Patches bypass the GI system for better tolerability.
Vitamin patches have perks, especially for those who struggle with traditional oral supplements. But there are some potential drawbacks too.
Possible Disadvantages of Vitamin Patches
While promising, vitamin patches aren’t perfect. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:
Despite marketing claims, peer-reviewed evidence proving vitamin patches effectively deliver most nutrients through skin is still lacking. The technology is a work in progress. More data is needed.
Adhesive patches can irritate sensitive skin, cause redness, itching or contact dermatitis. However hypoallergenic options exist.
Daily Change Needed
To maximize performance, most vitamin patches must be removed and replaced with a fresh patch daily. This requires compliance. Oral supplements are more forgiving.
Establishing proper therapeutic dosing is trickier with patches than pills. Nutrient concentrations and delivery rates vary between vitamin patch products more than with regulated oral supplements.
Oral supplements come in endless formulations and doses. Transdermal patches exist for only a handful of vitamins so far. Options are limited.
Due to novelty and manufacturing techniques, vitamin patches typically cost considerably more than supplements for the equivalent dosage amount.
Exposing the patch area to moisture from showering or activities like swimming can disrupt adhesion and absorption. Patches must stay completely dry.
As with any new technology, pros and cons exist. Vitamin patches have huge potential but also room for refinement as research continues.
Let’s look next at some of the health uses of vitamin patches.
Health Conditions Vitamin Patches May Help Treat
According to clinical studies, vitamin patches may have therapeutic benefits for:
Slow-release vitamin B6 patches alleviated nausea better than oral B6 supplements in two trials with pregnant women. B6 patches bypass stomach irritation.
In diabetic neuropathy patients, wearing thiamine and cyanocobalamin patches for 60 days reduced neuropathic pain significantly better than placebo patches.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Multiple studies demonstrate vitamin B12 patches reliably increase B12 blood levels compared to no patch. B12 patches treat deficiency from pernicious anemia, celiac disease and other absorption disorders.
Postmenopausal women using transdermal vitamin D3 patches containing 1000 IU increased bone density markers over 12 months comparable to taking oral vitamin D.
Vitamin C patches improved wound closure and healing time in animals compared to no patch. Vitamin C supports collagen formation and immune function.
One pilot study found daily vitamin D patches reduced psoriasis severity, redness and scaling significantly better than placebo patches. Vitamin D modulates immunity.
Cystic fibrosis patients have vitamin deficiencies from malabsorption. In a study, vitamin A, D, E, K patches improved vitamin levels without side effects.
Research confirms vitamin patches have therapeutic potential for various deficient states and absorption disorders. More applications will emerge as technology develops.
Opting for vitamin patches comes with some safety considerations.
Are There Any Risks With Vitamin Patches?
When used appropriately, vitamin patches are likely safe for most people. However, potential safety issues to keep in mind include:
Allergic rashes, redness, itching, swelling, and contact dermatitis are possible with adhesive patches. Start by testing a small area first.
UV Light Sensitivity
Some vitamins like vitamin D3 and retinoids make skin more sun-reactive. Limit sunlight on patch areas or cover with clothing.
Too High Dosage
It’s easier to overdo patches since you can’t simply take fewer like with pills. Make sure your daily nutrient amounts stay within recommended safe limits.
Patches may interact with your medications similar to oral supplements. Check with your pharmacist about any vitamin-drug interactions.
Some nanoparticles may cause free radical damage. Long term safety of vitamin nano-particles remains unknown. Larger encapsulations are likely safer.
Patch manufacturing varies. Some products may contain undisclosed fillers, chemicals or impurities that react with skin. Trust reputable brands.
While not guaranteed risk-free, vitamin patches present low concerns for healthy individuals without skin sensitivities when following product instructions.
Ready to give vitamin patches a try? Here are some shopping tips.
Choosing an Effective High-Quality Vitamin Patch
If you decide vitamin patches align with your needs, look for products that:
- Disclose all ingredients including delivery mechanisms, penetration enhancers etc., with lower filler ingredients
- Use larger encapsulated molecules rather than nanoparticles which have uncertain long-term safety
- Have adhesive backings appropriate for your skin type (latex-free, hypoallergenic etc.)
- Are made by an established company with high manufacturing standards
- Contain vitamins proven to absorb via skin (B12, D3, magnesium etc.)
- Are sustainably released over 8-12 hours to maintain nutrient levels
- Provide a potent therapeutic dosage equivalent to oral supplements
- Offer customer-friendly policies like money-back satisfaction guarantees
- Have lots of positive reviews and consumer testimonials attesting to effectiveness and tolerability
As a newer supplement technology, quality can vary widely among vitamin patch products. Select carefully based on your individual needs and consult your doctor with any health-related questions.
Vitamin patches present an intriguing new supplemental delivery system. The science on transdermal nutrient absorption continues evolving. While not a miracle cure-all, vitamin patches have already proven effective for treating certain nutrient deficiencies and malabsorption conditions. With sophisticated formulations that enhance skin permeability, their future therapeutic potential seems promising.