Omegas v. Skin Disorders

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Omegas are a great dietary or supplement choice for people who want to keep their skin youthful looking. But did you know that they also may alleviate some chronic or occasional skin conditions? Here’s the skinny on omega fatty acids.

Omegas are Essential to Skin Care

Just how essential to skin health are the so-called essential fatty acids? Nearly 100 years ago, researchers put rats on a no-fat diet. Among other health problems, the rats developed skin abnormalities and transepidermal water loss. Reintroducing saturated fats did not reverse the skin damage, but when the rats were fed polyunsaturated fatty acids—omega 3s and 6s—the skin issues completely cleared up. The essential fatty acids can’t be made in the body, so we need to get them through food or supplements.

How Omegas Help Your Skin

Omega-6 fatty acids, found in foods including meat, safflower oil, evening primrose oil, and borage oil, contribute to the skin’s structural integrity and to its barrier function. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods including fatty fish (salmon, tuna), walnuts, canola oil, and flaxseed, contribute to immune function. Both omegas 3 and 6 can control inflammatory skin responses.

You can get omegas through the food you eat, as dietary supplements, and as topical supplements that you apply directly to your skin. Both 3s and 6s are critical to keeping your skin healthy and looking its best.

Calming Skin Flare-ups

If you or a family member deals with a skin condition, consider omegas, especially omega 3s. In addition to playing a role in the overall health of your skin, they can improve a variety of skin disorders. Consider the research:

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

A 2015 German study found omega 3s may help prevent atopic dermatitis. A 2014 meta-analysis of research on atopic dermatitis suggested that evening primrose oil (an omega 6) and the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may help some sufferers.

Acne

Researchers divided 45 people with mild to moderate acne into three groups: an omega 3 group who received 2,000 milligrams (mg) of eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA, a borage oil (omega 6) group who received 400 mg of borage oil, and a control group. After 10 weeks of supplementation, they found a significant reduction in lesions in both omega groups.

Psoriasis

Scientists reviewed studies of different dietary supplements used by psoriasis patients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils. They found that the fish oils provided the most benefits.

Rosacea

In a 2016 randomized, controlled study of people with dry-eye symptoms stemming from rosacea, people were given either omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo twice a day for six months. The researchers found the symptoms of those who received the omega 3s significantly improved.

The Bottom Line of Omegas & Skin Health

We need both omega 3s and omega 6s for skin health. Most Americans consume too much omega-6 fatty acid due to its presence in commerically processed vegetable oils and grains but not enough gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a powerful anti-inflammatory from the omega-6 family. Good sources of GLA are borage oil, evening primrose oil, and black currant seed oil.

The standard American diet is typically too low in omega 3s. A good step toward skin health, then, is upping your intake of dark green, leafy vegetables, fish and fish oils, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Consider adding omega 3 and omega 6 supplements to your routine.

Sources: 

“Diet and Psoriasis: Part 3. Role of Nutritional Supplements” by J.W. Millsop et al., J Am Acad Dermatol, 9/14

“Do Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect from Atopic Dermatitis?” by I. Reese and T. Werfel, J Dtsch Dermatol Ges, 9/15

“Effect of Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Gamma-linolenic Acid on Acne Vulgaris” by J.Y. Jung et al., Acta Derm Venereol, 9/14

“Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health” by Giana Angelo, Linus Pauling Institute, www.lpi.OregonState.edu 

“A Randomized Controlled Trial of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in Rosacea Patients with Dry Eye Symptoms” by R. Bhargava et al., Curr Eye Res., 4/6/16 

“Review of Evidence for Dietary Influences on Atopic Dermatitis” by S. Mohajeri and S.A. Newman, Skin Therapy Lett, 7 /14

Contributor: 

Jane Eklund

Jane is a long-time resident of New Hampshire, where she holds an editorial position at Keene State College. She has a background in both literary and journalistic writing, including book reviews, poetry, and history.