Magnesium Oil: Transdermal Bull

27. June 2017

Manufacturers have come up with the idea of offering "miraculous" magnesium preparations for application on the skin. But can magnesium ultimately enter the bloodstream through transdermal application? If one looks for evidence, one is quickly overcome by disillusionment.

Magnesium is one of the most versatile and highly investigated minerals – its effects are indeed demonstrable. Nonetheless this applies to its application in oral form and not through the skin. On news-medical‘s serious looking website, transdermal application of magnesium salts or “oil” is recommended for children with sleep disorders. Medical facts about magnesium are skilfully interwoven with unprovable statements. The mineral is supposed to pass through the skin into the body and heal rheumatism, asthma, diabetes, migraine, stress and numerous other disorders.

Studies at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge demonstrated the role of intracellular magnesium in sleep disorders, and links to the GABA receptors were revealed. This is what news-medical makes reference to. The proof that magnesium oil raises the intracellular magnesium level is however lacking. The layman has difficulty here separating the wheat from the chaff.

Questionable publication

For example, an article about transdermal magnesium absorption written by Dr. Charles Heard, University of Cardiff, is mentioned. Heard is in fact an employee of the university. There is, however, no mention of the indicated study in his study list. It is also not listed in PubMed, and a query to the journal mentioned also shows: this study was never published.

Only on the internet can an unpublished report on transdermal magnesium absorption by Heard be found, issued by Andrew Thomas, the manufacturer of the magnesium spray Better You.

Magnesium oil is even touted in professional portals like pharmacy adhoc as a multilatent spray, foot bath and mouthwash. The website says: “The entire amount of active substance can be absorbed through the skin, deposits are replenished faster”. There are no sources given for the assertions. Muscle cramps, sports injuries, arthritis, joint pain, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, restless-leg syndrome, skin diseases, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, stress, colds – the oil is supposed to work against everything. “In all seriousness: four years of pharmacy studies, and this is what you’re serving up to us?” is one comment offered, or another, more sarcastically: “To get drunk, I always give myself a beer foot bath”.

Strong effects unlikely

Magnesium oil is also the subject of praise in KOPP-Verlag: “Magnesium oxide, for example, only makes it into the body at a rate of four percent. Magnesium oil is completely different. The liquid can be applied to the skin. In this way, one hundred percent (!) of the magnesium is absorbed by the body. The mineral shows its amazing effects very quickly”.

A study by Gulick et al. examined the effect of a magnesium chloride-containing cream on athletes. Result: no significant effect on muscle complaints.

“In this [preparation] magnesium is present in ionised form and is not capable of penetrating a lipophilic layer, such as the skin”, says Professor Dr. Jürgen Vormann from the Institute for Prevention and Nutrition (IPEV), Ismaning (Germany), in a paper on transdermal application.

A similarly cited study for evidence of transdermal magnesium resorption is one by Dr. Rosemary Waring from the University of Birmingham, in which subjects each day for seven days took a whole body bath for twelve minutes at 50 to 55° C in a solution of magnesium sulfate. The authors report an increase in serum magnesium concentration following this. This study has so far only been published on a commercial website, but not in any peer-reviewed scientific magazine.

Insufficient studies

On the Austrian homepage medizin-transparent a summary is to be found: “Well done studies involving a sufficient number of subjects, reliable randomisation, control groups and blinding of subjects and physicians are lacking”.

The German foundation Warentest has found a clear position in this issue: “There are no valid studies on the dermal absorption of magnesium, therefore at present no statements on the possible effects of magnesium oils can be made”.

You cannot get in here

The horny layer of the epidermis forms a very stable barrier against foreign substances. It makes it impossible for many substances to enter the body. The size of the particles involved only plays a subordinate role, it rather comes down to the extent of solubility in water or fat. Only lipid-soluble substances are able to overcome the skin barrier by diffusion and enter the body. Mineral salts such as magnesium chloride decompose into ions in an aqueous solution.

Metal ions such as those based on magnesium are water-soluble and not fat-soluble. This is an important fact in the matter, the reality being that magnesium ions cannot get into the body through the skin.

The administration of transdermal drugs has a long tradition. However, numerous conditions must be met for substances to enter the body via the skin and to build an effective blood level there. Transdermal therapeutic systems (TTS), active agent deposits of complex structure, funnel hormones, painkillers or other medications into the body. Yet ointments and creams substances are also able to get into the body’s interior.

Do ions squeeze through the sweat glands?

Skin appendages such as hair follicles, sweat and sebaceous glands pass through the epidermis and could theoretically serve as inlet openings for foreign substances. However, these “openings” form such a small part of the skin that they play no role. Sweat glands and hair follicles account for about 0.1 to 1 percent of the skin’s surface area.

A further piece of proof that ions do not to a significant extent find their way into the body’s interior is bathing in the Dead Sea. The water there contains 37 percent potassium chloride, 53 percent magnesium chloride and 8 percent sodium chloride. If the ions were to actually get into the body, a stay in the Dead Sea would be fatal, because potassium would lead to extreme cardiac arrhythmias.

Oil which is none of the sort

According to numerous advertising announcements, the transdermal application of magnesium oil is highly effective and free of side effects. Magnesium oil is however by definition not an oil and also not fat-soluble. It is a concentrated solution of magnesium chloride of highly viscous, apparently oily consistency.

The Austrian independent consumer portal, KONSUMENT, clearly states: “There are no good studies on this subject. Therefore, reliable information is lacking as to whether or in what form magnesium can penetrate the skin and have an effect”. The evidence status is categorised as inadequate.

Magnesium is a valuable mineral and plays a role in orthomolecular medicine with numerous valid indications. It is a pity that untrustworthy articles on transdermal preparations cast a bad light on this divalent ion.

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1 comment:

Drs. Johan Bolhuis
Drs. Johan Bolhuis

I see good results for my patients after bathing in magnesium-sulfate rich water (Epsom salt in bathing water). Absorption of magnesium through the skin seems possible and I think the sulfate has anti-inflammatory effects. Kind regards, Johan Bolhuis, M.D.–WVKBOX8AAQEAAHe7F7oAAAAE-a.pdf

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