Is it possible for any toxic substance to penetrate the skin by mere touching?

Q. Will toxic substance cause fatal attack by just touching it?

Answered by
Dr. Arul Amuthan L
and medically reviewed by Dr. Hemalatha
This is a premium question & answer published on Jan 19, 2020 and last reviewed on: Jun 19, 2023

Hello doctor,

Maybe I have a toxiphobia after getting a lot of work stress. Please explain to me whether it is SF (scientific fiction) or there are such kinds of toxicants? I sometimes imagine that while I touch some solid materials if it is a fatal toxicant, could it penetrate the normal skin and give fatal attacks to body organs and cells? As the molecule is very small, I think it could penetrate the skin? Is it possible? Or is there any such kinds of toxicants?



Welcome to I could imagine the sufferings of somebody who has a phobia about toxins. It disturbs all the time. The current question is very interesting. It is true that highly lipid soluble chemicals can penetrate the intact skin. If you take bath in water, it will never enter the skin. If you apply oil in the skin, it can enter the skin. This is how, the oil natured (lipid soluble) chemicals can penetrate the skin, but not lipid insoluble (water soluble) drugs. If the skin is having injury opened, then all the chemicals can enter the body. The penetrability through intact skin is based on its lipid solubility, and not based on the size. Even, HIV virus so small, but cannot penetrate the intact skin. It requires an opening in the skin. Poisons like organophosphorus, arsenic, mercury, etc., can enter through the skin. These chemicals are soluble in lipids. Our skin is made by lipid outer layer. The chemical gets into the lipid present in the skin, then slowly enters into it. Thus, higher the lipid solubility, higher the penetration. Even, highest lipid solubility takes much time to enter the skin. Such toxicity happens to people who work in a particular chemical industry. Continuous exposure or contact through the skin for a long period (days, months) leads to the entry of a considerable amount of chemicals. It will not happen simply by touching the chemical for hour. The amount entered within one hour cannot enough to kill a person. If more amount of chemical enters into the body, then it can produce the toxicity to inner organs of our body. As such toxins do not commonly happen to come across in day to day life, you no need to worry about it. The common situation to occur this type is in agriculture field. After using insecticides (contacted with skin), mild amount can enter through skin after applying insecticide to the field, if you take the water bath, you can prevent further entry. I hope this helps to relive your phobia.

Thank you doctor,

I have one more question.

There are a lot of lethal chemical toxicants. As far as I know, there are most of 10 or 20 lethal toxicants act their bad effect (killing the person) by drinking or eating or inhaling but not by touching.

Does that means the penetrating amount is very limited that it is very hard to kill the person by touching some lethal toxicants for about 10 or more seconds? Have you ever heard such lethal toxicant which could kill the person only after touching it?



Welcome back to All chemicals or toxins have its own structure and property. If we try to change the property (to increase lipid solubility), the chemical may lose its toxicity activity. Very rarely, the chemical retains its activity. In drug development, researchers are trying to make drugs more lipid soluble, so that we can avoid injection prick. Just apply as an ointment to enter the body. It is not successful. But still, research is going on. There is only one toxin, which can kill a person just if we touch it for 10 seconds. It is nothing but electricity. In my knowledge, there are no other chemicals at present available for such fast action by just touching.

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