And now for results from a hard-hitting scientific investigation.
Did you know that there is a Danish myth that you can get drunk by soaking your feet in alcohol?
Well, there is. So three doctors decided to test it.
Their results were published in the British Medical Journal: Testing the validity of the Danish urban myth that alcohol can be absorbed through feet: open labelled self experimental study.
What they did was put a bunch of vodka into containers, had their subjects soak their feet in it for three hours and regularly measured their blood alcohol levels. (Since the experiment was “self experimental”, that means that the three doctors were the three subjects—they tried to get themselves drunk this way.) It sounds like a waste of good vodka.
The result was that blood alcohol levels were never detected.
After all, the major purpose of skin is to keep things out. That’s why it is not dangerous to walk barefoot.
If it were that easy for chemicals to get through the skin, we would have all been dead long ago. Yes, the skin is somewhat permeable to chemicals of various sorts, particularly solvents like DMSO. For other chemicals, like weed killers, long exposure will allow some of it to get into the bloodstream.
It also turns out that the skin is metabolically active. It contains the same sorts of enzymatic compounds that the liver does, and can convert various chemicals to other forms. Most times this can detoxify harmful chemicals (just as the liver does), but it can also occasionally activate inert chemicals into toxicologically active ones.
Not surprisingly, the ability of chemicals to get through our skin depends on its thickness. That means that we are the most protected when we walk, since the skin on the bottoms of our feet is the thickest of our bodies. That is particularly true for those of us who regularly walk barefoot, since that walking builds up the skin. I suspect that the increased keratinization also impedes permeation.
By the way, the thinnest skin on our bodies (well, for half the population) is the skin of the scrotum. It is really, really thin. So maybe you can get drunk by dipping . . . no, I won’t go there.
Anyways, between the thickness of the skin on the feet, its general lack of permeability, and its ability to detoxify, we really shouldn’t worry about walking barefoot in most places. This includes public bathrooms. There really is nothing in there that will penetrate for the short time we might be using a bathroom, and in general, as soon as you walk outside the bathroom, your normal steps will rub off anything you might have stepped in.
Bottom line: who’d want to get drunk through their feet anyways? The normal way tastes a whole lot better.