Is "into the skin" in this sentence correct?

Make sure you spread the ointment into the skin.

This sentence is from a vocabulary book that I am learning English with.

I thought "onto the skin" or "on the skin" is right instead of "into the skin". If either is possible to use, then what is the difference between them?

  • Your first example sounds off - either you spread it on / onto the skin or you massage it into the skin if it's the kind of ointment that's applied like that. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:18
  • 1
    spread or put on/onto the skin. rub or work or massage into the skin. If you imagine the actions I think you can understand the difference.
    – user3169
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:37
  • In other words, use into for a substance that will be absorbed by the skin; on or onto for a substance that will remain on the surface. You'll need the appropriate verb in each instance. Spread means cover a surface, so it's inapt with into.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 1:22
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you for the reply, it was helpful. But what does "sounds off" mean in your reply? I am not a native English speaker and sorry about this question. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:24
  • @user3169 Thank you for the reply. Now I understand the corresponding verb and preposition about this due to you. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:26

1 Answer 1


Your example sentence

Make sure you spread the ointment into the skin

is grammatically correct and understandable with the meaning

Apply the ointment so that it penetrates the skin

however the phrasing may be found awkward by native speakers. The awkwardness arises from the use of spread...into.

Skin is a surface which things are usually placed on, over, or through and sometimes into

The wind on his skin made him feel cold
She poured water over her skin to wash it
The splinter pierced through his skin
The injection was made into the second layer of skin

Ointment can be applied over skin and then allowed to penetrate into the skin due to the latter's permeability.

Make sure to spread the ointment over your skin until it is absorbed

may convey the message you want with less awkwardness

  • Thank you for the explanation very much, Peter. I appreciate your answer. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:14
  • If I may ask a bit more, do you mean the example sentence I asked about is wrong? That sentence is from a vocabulary learning book. When I first saw it, it felt awkward. And I got to know why it is awkward, thankfully due to your teaching. But I would like check whether or not the sentence is right, because I need to know if the book is trustworthy. Thank you. :) Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:21
  • The example question is fine and very understandable. Usually instructions would read "Apply onto the skin, and allow to be absorbed" or "Spread until absorbed". I wouldn't say it's wrong, the grammar is correct, it's the semantics that's being discussed. You'd also have to consider why the authors chose to use that particular phrasing, but it would't be what a native ear would expect for instructions.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 16:13
  • Now I think I understand your words fully. I think you mean that in grammatical terms there is no errors in the sentence but there is a semantic problem. Is this what you mean correctly? Sorry to bother you. Thank you for the teaching. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 17:58
  • Yes and the semantic concern is only a small one
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 21:34

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