Drinking increases skin’s permeability

From San Diego, at a meeting of the Society of Toxicology

People should avoid alcoholic drinks before working with toxic compounds, new research suggests. At least in laboratory rats, drinking ethanol compromises the skin’s barrier to chemicals.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Evanston, Ill., fed alcohol to rats in amounts ranging from the equivalent of half a drink taken by a person to more than enough to make a person legally drunk. Beginning 2 hours later, team members took a patch of skin from each animal, applied a chemical to it, and measured how much passed through.

Almost all the alcohol doses increased skin permeability, reports Rhonda M. Brand, and the effect usually lasted at least 24 hours. In general, the greater the alcohol intake, the leakier an animal’s skin became. Two to three times as much paraquat, an herbicide, or DEET, a mosquito repellent, passed through the skin of rats that had received the highest alcohol doses as passed through the skin of the teetotaler rats.

Two years ago, Brand’s team reported similar findings for herbicide-exposed rats that were continually and heavily consuming alcohol. Skin from chronically drunk rodents transmitted two to five times as much paraquat, atrazine, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) as did the skin of sober animals.

Concludes Brand, “Extra care needs to be taken when handling chemicals if you’ve been drinking, even if it was a day earlier.”

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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