Hypertonic Solution: Definition, Effect & Example

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Elizabeth Friedl

Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

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Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

In our cells, when the concentration of ions outside the cell is greater than inside, it's hypertonic. Through examples, learn the differences between hypo, hyper, and iso-tonic solutions, and explore their implications for cell function. Updated: 09/16/2021

What is a Hypertonic Solution?

Though the cell is the basic unit of all life, there is nothing basic about it. Cells require very specific conditions to be able to function properly. Temperature and the amount of water and nutrients must all be just right in order for a cell to be healthy, and these optimal conditions vary depending on the organism.

The amount of fluid both inside and outside a cell is one condition that is very important, and this fluid amount is often determined by the amount of solutes outside of the cell. Solutes are the particles that are dissolved in a solvent, and together they form a solution. In your body, these solutes are ions like sodium and potassium.

Hypertonic solutions cause blood cells to shrivel. Hypotonic solutions can cause the blood cell to burst from the pressure.
Hypertonic isotonic and hypotonic solutions and their effect on blood cells

There are three types of solutions that can occur in your body based on solute concentration: isotonic, hypotonic, and hypertonic. An isotonic solution is one in which the concentration of solutes is the same both inside and outside of the cell. A hypotonic solution is one in which the concentration of solutes is greater inside the cell than outside of it, and a hypertonic solution is one where the concentration of solutes is greater outside the cell than inside it.

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How Different Solutions Affect Your Cells

For the cells in your body, the ideal solution is an isotonic solution. This is because water (which is the major solvent in your body) likes to diffuse from an area of low-solute concentration to an area of high-solute concentration. This process is called osmosis. Water does this because, by diffusing to where there are more solutes, it essentially evens out the ratio of solvent and solute.

When human cells are in a hypotonic solution, water will rush into the cell by osmosis, which is not good for the cell because it will fill with water and burst, or lyse. Plant cells actually prefer hypotonic solutions because they have a rigid cell wall that needs the pressure from extra water inside the cell to stay rigid and firm.

With its salt content, seawater is considered to be a hypertonic solution.
Hypertonic solution example of ocean wave

A hypertonic solution will do just the opposite to a cell since the concentration of solutes is greater outside of the cell than inside. For both human and plant cells, the water will rush out of the cell, and it will shrivel up. When this happens to a plant cell, it is called a plasmolyzed cell.

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Additional Activities

Hypertonic Solution Word Search Activity

This activity will help you assess your knowledge of the definition, effect, and example of a hypertonic solution.


For this activity, you'll need a printer to reproduce the following page. Search for and circle or highlight the words that will complete each of the given clues. Afterward, neatly write them in the appropriate blank spaces in the clues.


  1. The cellular functioning of a cell is disrupted when it _____.
  2. Any substance that is dissolved in a liquid solvent to create a solution is called a _____.
  3. _____ is an example of a solute that is needed by the body to function normally.
  4. The net movement of molecules from a _____ gradient is known as osmosis.
  5. A sufficient amount of _____ is required inside the cell to function correctly.
  6. Plasmolysis is the process in which cells lose water and shrivel up in a _____ solution.
  7. _____ are the basic building blocks of all living things.
  8. Plant cells that are in a hypotonic solution would swell up but do not burst due to their _____ cell wall.
  9. _____ refers to two solutions that stabilize into equal concentrations of solutes.
  10. Cells that are placed in a _____ solution will swell up and even burst.

Answer Key

  5. WATER
  7. CELLS
  8. RIGID

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