If you think healthy skin and oil don’t mix, think again! The right oils—specifically oils high in essential fatty acids (EFAs)—can leave your complexion glowing.
There are two basic types of EFAs—omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and we need them both. Some omega-6 oils, such as borage seed oil and evening primrose oil, provide the skin-friendly beneficial omega-6 fatty acid
gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Omega-3 fatty acids boast alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds—and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fatty fish such as salmon. But these fatty acids are more than simple lubricants. Taken internally or used externally, EFAs can provide numerous benefits to both your skin and your overall health.
What They Are
Both omega-6s and omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are critical to good health. But even though your body needs these special fats, it can’t manufacture them. Instead, they must be obtained through either diet or supplements. Once in the body, EFAs break down to form eicosanoids—hormone-like substances that regulate important bodily functions, including the nervous system and immune response.
EFAs are important structural components of cell membranes throughout the body. They help cells stay fluid and flexible, allowing nutrients to enter the cells and wastes to exit. EFA metabolites also “waterproof” the skin, creating an antimicrobial barrier against the elements. Without enough EFAs, your skin can suffer from dryness and premature aging.
Did You Know?
EFA supplements can reduce blood viscosity, so check with your doctor if you are having surgery or are taking blood thinners or high doses of aspirin.
What They Do
EFAs can enhance your complexion by improving the skin’s texture and softness. They also help to keep skin cells moist and strong by reducing the amount of water lost through the epidermis (the top layer of skin). Among a group of 60-somethings, German researchers found that those who took supplemental borage seed oil daily for two months experienced an improvement in their skin’s barrier function. Better yet, dry skin was reduced 28 percent.
According to researchers at Purdue University, EFAs also increase production of collagen, a protein that makes up connective tissue and is a structural building block of firm, healthy skin. A randomized, double-blind trial found that taking 500 mg of evening primrose oil three times a day increased the moisture content and improved the firmness and texture of skin.
Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids, they are especially well-suited to treat eczema and possibly even psoriasis, both orally and topically. Evening primrose oil is another traditional omega-6 remedy for eczema. An analysis of 26 clinical trials involving more than 1,200 eczema sufferers concluded that evening primrose oil benefits the itching, crusting, inflammation, and redness of eczema, making it a safe alternative to topical steroids.
Omega-3 fatty acids quell inflammation, support a healthful heart rate, tame unhealthful cholesterol and blood pressure levels, discourage blood clots and clogged arteries, and help prevent metabolic syndrome and diabetes. They also support healthy brain function, ease depression, promote good vision, and enhance immunity. Omega-6s are important for maintaining our bones, regulating metabolism, and maintaining reproductive health. Both of these essential fatty acids are critical to good health. But to be truly effective, it’s important to take high-enough doses. Most experts recommend taking 1 to 6 g of an omega-3 supplement such as fish oil or 5 to 15 g flaxseed oil to supply 500 to 3,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily. The recommended dose for evening primrose oil or borage oil is based on providing approximately 270 to 540 mg of GLA per day.
Where to Find Them
Simply taking EFAs in supplemental form can benefit your skin—and your overall health. But to get all of the beautiful benefits these healthful fats have to offer, it’s smart to use them topically too.
Product Examples (from left)
Alba Botanica Kukui Nut Body Cream: Smooth parched skin with tropical nut oils rich in essential fatty acids, plus shea and cocoa butters in this rich, fragrant cream.
Weleda Sea Buckthorn Body Oil: This rich oil contains sea buckthorn, which is rich in vitamins A and C, and unsaturated fatty acids.
Jason Natural Cosmetics Natural E.F.A. Hand & Body Lotion: Evening primrose and black currant oil impart moisture and softness to skin in this 100 percent vegetarian formula.
Flora Udo’s Oil 3•6•9 Blend (liquid): This ideal ratio of omega fatty acids can be drizzled onto breads and vegetables, or blended into salad dressings.