Water diffusion is called osmosis. Oxygen is a small molecule and it's nonpolar, so it easily passes through a cell membrane. Carbon dioxide, the byproduct of cell respiration, is small enough to readily diffuse out of a cell. Small uncharged lipid molecules can pass through the lipid innards of the membrane.
What type of molecule forms a lipid bilayer?
All of the lipid molecules in cell membranes are amphipathic (or amphiphilic)—that is, they have a hydrophilic (“water-loving”) or polar end and a hydrophobic (“water-fearing”) or nonpolar end. The most abundant membrane lipids are the phospholipids. These have a polar head group and two hydrophobic hydrocarbon tails.
What determines whether or not a molecule can pass through the cell membrane?
Some molecules can diffuse through the cell membrane without any assistance from the cell. Others require the help of transmembrane proteins to move into or out of the cell. Three primary factors determine whether a molecule will diffuse across a cell membrane: concentration, charge and size.