Dry skin that feels tight, itches, and flakes isn't pretty-and the cause could actually be an essential fatty acid deficiency. "The remedy is to oil your skin from within with the right kind of oils in the right ratio," says Udo Erasmus, PhD, the internationally renowned author and authority on the effects of fats and oils on human health.
Scientists have given essential fatty acids (EFAs) their name because your body must have them to survive, but it cannot synthesize them from any other substance you eat-hence, the name essential. There are only two kinds of essential fats: omega-3s and omega-6s. All other fats, such as omega-9s, are non-essential because the body can produce them from sugars and starches.
"The proper ratio of essential fats is important to good health," says Erasmus. "This isn't usually achieved because the average Western diet is too high in omega-6s and dangerously low in omega-3s. The result of this imbalance of EFAs in the skin is dryness, dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis-like skin conditions, acne, cracked heels, toxic deposits in the skin, skin damage, and increased risk of sunburn."
Erasmus' research indicates that the best results come consistently from plant oils blended in a 2:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. He suggests taking 1 Tbs. per 50 pounds of body weight per day of an EFA product mixed in food and spread out over the course of the day. Athletes can double the amount.
"Healthy skin needs omega-3s and -6s to form a barrier that prevents moisture from evaporating quickly," Erasmus notes. "When you don't get enough oil in your diet, the skin suffers. When skin gets enough oil through the diet, it becomes soft, smooth, and velvety. It also heals and recovers faster."
Essential fats are easily damaged by light, oxygen, and heat. Other, less delicate oils are more effective in creams and face and body lotions. "Topical lotions and oils need to be durable. My favorite topical fats are pure coconut oil, shea butter, or lanolin," says Erasmus.
Hydrate thirsty skin on your face and hands with Reviva LabsNourishing Cream with Omega-3 & Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids. Ten oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (sunflower, flaxseed, borage, rosehip, hemp, avocado, wheat germ, black currant seed, olive, and sesame seed) boost skin's resiliency. This light cream absorbs easily and will help your skin feel and look smoother, plumper, and more supple.
Nourish your skin with Out of AfricaSkin Saver Shea Butter Body Oil. This silky, spa-like product glides on and instantly absorbs into the skin-no sticky or greasy residue. The star ingredient is pure unrefined shea butter, which is blended with vitamin-rich avocado, sweet almond, and olive oils. Place the bottle under hot water before applying, and use right out of the bath or shower for best results. Choose from Unscented, Lavender, Vanilla, Grapefruit, and Verbena (shown here).
The Seaweed Bath Co.Wildly Natural Seaweed Body Cream. This fast-
absorbing light cream combines nourishing and detoxifying bladderwrack seaweed with shea butter, kukui oil, argan oil, and cocoa seed butter. In Unscented, Lavender, Citrus, and Eucalyptus & Peppermint.
Soften and moisturize your skin from the inside out with Flora Udo's ChoiceUdo's Oil 3•6•9 Blend. Formulated by essential fatty acid expert Udo Erasmus, PhD, these capsules are vegetarian-friendly and contain omega-3, -6, and -9 fats from unrefined oils, including flax, sunflower, sesame, and evening primrose. Take 2 capsules daily. Udo's Oil 3•6•9 Blend also comes in
a liquid form.
Drench dry skin with J.R. WatkinsNaturals Apricot & Pequi Oil Body Butter. Rich in EFAs and vitamins A and E, pequi oil, extracted from the seeds of the Brazilian pequi fruit, has been used for centuries as a moisturizer. Combined with apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, and shea and cocoa butters, this whipped, fluffy body butter melts onto skin and leaves behind a subtle tropical scent.
Sherrie Strausfogel is the author of Hawaii's Spa Experience: Rejuvenating Secrets of the Islands. Writing about beauty, spas, health, cuisine, and travel, Strausfogel's work has appeared in more than 100 magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, and websites. She is based in Honolulu.