transdermal absorption of magnesium: bloggers versus science

in the old days of AE, i’d pour over studies related to what the crunchy world was promoting. while not always comprehensive, and with competing interests (big pharma and profits), it’s still worthwhile to poke around and see what science has to say.

let’s stop real quick and realize that this title also targets ME. i am a blogger and i myself have shared with you on at least two occasions how i use liquid magnesium transdermally (to help with headaches and to relax before bed). i’m not writing this to call anyone out.

OK, let’s science together.

not getting enough magnesium is real. not getting enough magnesium is more common than it should be.


with a quick google, you can see how many bloggers promote/d using liquid magnesium transdermally to promote absorption. it’s claimed this is better because it bypasses the gastrointestinal tract.

but do bloggers actually link data to that claim? i genuinely haven’t seen it but please share if you have.

so where did this notion even start?

maybe it originated from a holistic doctor in 2000, Norman Shealy*, asserting transdermal application of magnesium could replenish stores in a fraction of the time than taking it orally could. however, the actual study can’t be found anywhere – only the abstract.


since then, there have been more studies, but the data collected and published has been lackluster and questionable.


does skin absorb what you put on it? yes.

BUT the notion that transdermal application of magnesium is BETTER is, quite frankly, scientifically unsupported in the amounts bloggers are claiming.

“To get through the skin, a substance must penetrate the epidermis or has to be absorbed by sweat glands or hair follicles. The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the epidermis […]  Overcoming this layer in significant quantities is only possible for lipophilic substances. In magnesium chloride solution, magnesium is present in ionized form and therefore not able to penetrate a lipophilic layer. In addition, the radius of the hydrated magnesium ion (86 pm) has been reported to be 400 times higher than its dehydrated form, leading to the assertion that it is almost impossible for magnesium ions to pass through biological membranes. ”   — Grober, Werner, Vormann, Kisters, 2017

and furthermore –

“A recently published study showed that magnesium ions can penetrate the stratum corneum in a concentration and time dependent manner which is significantly facilitated by hair follicles. However, hair follicles and sweat glands constitute only 0.1% to 1% of the skin surface. Even if a substance is absorbed in this area, the question of the clinical relevance of absorbed amounts needs to be addressed. In the study that examined the permeation of topically applied magnesium no information is given on the quantity of absorbed magnesium.”    — referenced source 


unknown, but it’s possible.

i fully believe it helps my headaches but i’m not going to pretend science is on my side. (yet?)

we need better studies. we need the applications to last longer. we need the research to be specific about magnesium concentrations and what is excreted by the kidneys after application. the list goes on.

in the meantime, pop a pill or put it on your skin. it’s your body. it’s your choice.  if you genuinely notice improvements by applying it to your skin before bed or using it for headaches, and if your doctor concludes it’s safe for you, keep doing it.

what do you think?



*Dr. Shealy isn’t just any doctor. He actually founded the American Holistic Medical Association


Published by

alexraye //

5 thoughts on “transdermal absorption of magnesium: bloggers versus science”

  1. I get restless legs and leg cramps and applying magnesium oil at bedtime usually staves these off. I know if i’ve forgotten the oil, I get cramp etc. I’ve found taking the magnesium tablets works too but maybe not quite as well. For those that need it, i’ve also discovered the magnesium oil helps to lessen the pain of menstral cramps.

    1. Thanks for sharing Fiona! This sounds like a great application. I’ve tried it for cramps and it didn’t work for me, but I know everyone is different. Maybe I should try again ❤ Sending love

  2. I so appreciate you writing this post. I am in the field of naturopathic medicine, and i too often see people being okay using “tips” that have no backing in science whatsoever. That doesnt mean we throw the baby out with the bath water, it just means we need to do our research and let people make the decision that works best for them. Great post!

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