Absorb this

Yesterday, a friend of mine trotted out that old urban legend about using WD-40 to ease the pain of arthritis.  I tried to tell him it was a myth, but he didn’t believe me.  His argument:  fish oil is known to help relieve arthritis pain, and WD-40 contains fish oil.  Oh, boy.

First, the manufacturer of WD-40 recommends against putting their product on your skin.  In addition, WD-40 does not contain fish oil, as you can see by reading their Material Safety Data Sheet.  It’s mostly petroleum distillates, and I certainly wouldn’t want those passing through my skin and into the joints.  Now there’s a thought.  Can they?  We’ll get back to that.

So what about fish oil, anyway?  It turns out that there is some evidence that fish oil can reduce the swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis.  That is, fish oil that’s taken as a dietary supplement.  There is no evidence that rubbing fish oil on your skin will have any measurable effect other than that provided by the act of massaging.  The fish oil can’t pass through the skin in sufficient quantity to have any effect.

Along the same lines, there are countless sites pushing “natural” skin care products that warn of the dangers your cosmetics pose.  A popular myth seems to be that a woman will absorb between 5 and 20 pounds of skin care chemicals through her skin per year.  If you believe those claims, a woman’s body is a veritable toxic waste dump.  That claim is more absurd than the colon cleansing sites’ claim that I have 5 to 20 pounds of stuff stuck to my colon, “like spackle or paste.”  But I digress.

Back to the point.  Is it even possible for WD-40 to pass through the skin?

There are some chemicals that do pass through the skin very easily.  Probably the best known is DMSO.  Although not toxic itself, DMSO is a very powerful solvent that can carry through the skin the things that it dissolves.  Unfortunately, I’ve not found a list of other chemicals that are as easily absorbed.

The primary ingredients in WD-40 are petroleum distillates, specifically alphatic hydrocarbons and petroleum based oil.  Everything I’ve been able to find shows that the danger of absorbing these chemicals through the skin is very low, provided you don’t have any cuts or open sores.  I suppose if you bathed in it for an hour every day you might get some under the skin.  It’s unlikely, however, that the effects would be good.  It almost certainly wouldn’t relieve the aching joints.

I’ve found it rather difficult to find good information about the permeability of skin to different substances.  What I’d really like to see is a list of chemicals (including common names, where applicable) that gives an indication of the danger of skin absorption.  It’d be difficult to do that in a single list, though.  Some chemicals will pass through the skin readily, but pose no real health hazard.  Others might have more difficulty passing through the skin, but pose an extreme hazard if they get into the bloodstream.

I did run across a couple of interesting links having to do with the dangers of absorbing jet fuel and gasoline.  The article Assessment of Skin Absorption and Penetration of JP-8 Jet Fuel and Its Components, published in Toxicology Sciences, says in its abstract:

These results suggest: (1) that JP-8 penetration will not cause systemic toxicity because of low fluxes of all the components; and (2) the absorption of aliphatic components into the skin may be a cause of skin irritation.

In other words, you might absorb a bit of it and it might irritate your skin, but it’s unlikely to cause major problems.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s Health Effects of Gasoline:

When gasoline is NOT trapped against the skin and can freely evaporate, it is probably only mildly irritating or not irritating. However, case reports indicate that when gasoline is trapped against the skin (clothing is soaked in gasoline, skin is in contact with a puddle) for a long period (probably more than 30 minutes), serious burns and skin loss may occur. Absorption through the skin occurs, but is normally not significant.

All the research I’ve found about the dangers of gasoline and diesel indicates that the real dangers are in inhaling, ingesting, or getting it into the body through a tear in the skin.  I wouldn’t soak my hand in gasoline, but I wouldn’t worry too much about a few splashes on the skin.

Some friends who work in auto repair report sometimes using brake fluid as a hand cleaner.  This is probably a bad idea, but not disastrous.  Most brake fluids are glycol-ether based.  I’m not certain, but it looks like all of these solvents are quite toxic if ingested.  There is some evidence of skin absorption through lesions, but I wasn’t able to find any solid information on absorption through intact skin.  Again, I doubt that there’s much danger if you’re not soaking in it.

An interesting resource for the more technically minded is the Skin Permeation Calculator available from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  You’ll need to know the CAS Number  for a particular chemical, or have its molecular weight and a number called the LOGKOW.  Given those two numbers, the calculator will give you some numbers that indicate how easily the chemical will pass through the skin.  I don’t yet know enough to make good use of that information, though.

Update 2012/08/10

I got a note from the person who wrote the original Skin Permeation Calculator, linked above. He says:

There is a newer much more sophisticated version of the skin permeation calculator at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/skin/finiteskinpermcalc.html,
though it needs several more parameters to enter. This version can actually predict how much of the stuff will get through or stay in different skin layers. It has four example buttons at the bottom, to help guide through the program a bit.

You can find the CAS Number for lots of different chemicals from the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. Unfortunately, the Skin Permeation Calculator doesn’t recognize all of the CAS Numbers and the NIOSH data lists the molecular weight, but not the log KOW.  So you end up having to find the CAS and use it to search the LOGKOW database.

I’d be interested in hearing about any list like the one I described above:  substances listed by danger of absorbing them through the skin.  Anybody have a link?  I’d hate to have to download those databases and run the numbers myself.

Rufus & Sadie

A lot of wood carvers have tried their hands at Rufus and Sadie from Harold Enlow’s book, Carving Figure Caricatures in the Ozark Style.  This, perhaps, isn’t the best rendition ever, but I had fun with it.  The little dog is from a piece of cedar.


Sanity(?) prevails

We should see some small measure of sanity emerge from the election of Republican Scott Brown to fill the vacant Senate seat left by the death of Senator Kennedy.  I think it’s dangerous for any single party to control the White House and both houses of Congress.  We only have to go back to the first of G.W. Bush’s terms to see the kind of excesses such power can lead to.

I’m also happy to see that Democrats have decided not to do something rash like try to jam the health care bill through before the new Senator can be seated.  I doubt that they’d have the votes to do it, but just trying would almost certainly lead to a huge defeat for incumbent Democrats in this November’s election, giving Republicans total control of both houses:  another bad thing.  We’re much safer when neither party has an overwhelming majority in Congress.  We’re safest, of course, when Congress is out of session, but if we must have them mucking things up it’s best if we make it difficult for them.

Congress very often makes what amount to irrevocable decisions.  They’re not technically irrevocable, but they’re usually hard enough to change as to be permanent.  Such things should be done judiciously, not primarily to fit the controlling party’s agenda or to garner votes or to show the public that Congress is “Doing Something”, but rather because in the considered opinion of our Senators and Representatives, it’s the right thing to do for the good of the country.  I see very little of that rationality in Washington, and even less when one of the two major parties has a virtual stranglehold on the lawmaking process.

Unfortunately, I fear that both parties will misinterpret the results of yesterday’s election.  Republicans will call it a “mandate for change” (how often have I heard that one?) or a repudiation of the President’s and the Democrats’ agenda.  Democrats will call it reactionary, blame the tea party movement for hijacking the election, or think that the problem is that they haven’t done enough soon enough.

I think the message is quite a bit simpler:  large numbers of people who normally don’t vote are fed up.  They want want smaller and less intrusive government.  This is their first step in making their voices heard.  They’re neither Democrat nor Republican, but rather people who are tired of “business as usual.”  I’d like to think that others will make their voices heard come November, but if incumbents have any brains (and I’ve never accused them of being stupid), they’ll lay low and not make any waves so that 10 months from now people will have forgotten and won’t have anything recent to complain about.

It’s all a matter of perception

The story is told of a man who becomes convinced that he’s dead.  At first, his family tries to logic:  “Look, you’re walking and breathing and talking.  You can’t possibly be dead!”  Failing that, they referred him to a psychiatrist who tried the same line of reasoning, again to no avail.  The man is eventually committed to a mental institution, still firmly convinced that he is dead, and daily visits with the doctors have no effect on changing his mind.

After some time, a new psychiatrist is assigned his case.  The new doctor has a new idea, and walks his patient through the medical texts to convince the man of one fact:  dead men don’t bleed.  After weeks of poring over the texts and other relevant information, the man concedes the point:  dead men do not bleed.

The doctor then takes a pin and pricks the man’s finger.  As you would expect, a drop of blood begins to well up in the tip of the patient’s finger.  Looking at it, astounded, the man exclaims, “Hey, Doc!  Dead men do bleed!”

How often do you run into people who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, continue clinging to their own preconceived notions in much the same way as the man who was convinced that he was dead?

Better yet, have you ever found yourself holding tightly to a particular belief long after you have seen sufficient evidence to prove that you’re dead wrong?

The ability to re-examine and modify (or discard) your beliefs in the face of contrary evidence and admit it is perhaps the most important mark of intellectual maturity.

Barry the Bear

This carving is my rendition of Mike Shipley’s “Barry the Bear” from his book Woodcarving the Country Bear & His Friends.  I deviated from the pattern quite a bit on the details, but it’s pretty clear where the original idea came from.

Barry is about 4 inches tall.  It was another project for my carving class.


Christmas ornament swap

Last summer, I signed up to participate in the Christmas ornament swap organized by some members of the Woodcarving Illustrated message board.  I ended up sending out 22 ornaments and getting 16 or 18 back.  The other four went to people who were involved, but not participating.  I didn’t get pictures of all the ornaments I received because I failed to do that before Debra packed them away.  But I did get a pretty good picture of the little tree filled with hand carved ornaments.  A few are mine, but most I received from others.  Click on the image below for a full sized view.


Behind closed doors

In a thinly reported move the other day, House and Senate Democratic leaders decided to “fast track” coming up with a compromise health care bill.  Rather than forming the usual conference committee that includes members from both parties, the fast track approach will be held behind closed doors and include only the Democratic leadership from both houses, along with representatives from the Obama administration.  The plan is for the House to amend the Senate’s health care bill and then pass the result to the Senate for ratification.

The President, who a year ago said that his approach would involve “bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are,”  is now meeting in secret to force through unpopular legislation?  So much for campaign promises, bipartisanship, and open government.

I believe that the proposed health care finance legislation being considered is a bad idea, in large part due to the reasons I pointed out in my January 2003 blog entry, The Fallacy of Affordable Health Insurance.  The Administration and its Democratic lackies pay lip service to those arguments, but there’s little in the way of effective cost containment in the proposed legislation.  There are, however, plenty of instances of filling dissenters’ mouths with gold, the most egregious being the part that has the Federal government pay for the expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska.  Forever.  Funny how Sen. Nelson of Nebraska changed his vote after that bit was added.

The Democratic Congressional leadership and the Obama administration should not be taking this behind closed doors approach to the health care legislation.  Or any legislation, come to think of it.  They promised us open government, only to revert to business as usual whenever it looks like things aren’t going their way.  I know that the President wants health care legislation passed before his State of the Union speech, but doing it this way goes against everything he said he holds dear.

I said that I’d give President Obama a chance to see if he really does live up to the standards that he set forth.  If he continues on this course, I’ll know that he’s no better than any other politician who puts his and his party’s agenda ahead of the good of the nation.  I’m not terribly surprised, and I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed.


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