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Your Definitive Guide to Essential Fatty Acids for skin health

by Selina Mithen |

The skin’s health is absolutely dependent on consumption of essential fatty acids, but which fatty acids are the most important? How do you know if you have an essential fatty acid deficiency? Do other forms of dietary fats impact skin health as well? What factors affect the availability of EFAs for skin heath? Lastly, which EFA are the best supplements to take for the skin? Read blog to find these answers!


Omega 6 (linoleic acid) is an essential component of the skin’s structure, and the most abundant fatty acid in the skin.

Linoleic acid along with Gamma-Linoleic acid is crucial for the following functions:

  • Barrier function – lipid production
  • Ceramide synthesis
  • Structural integrity of skin cell
  • Regulating moisture within the skin

When linoleic acid is deficient in the skin it causes:

  • Increased skin barrier permeability
  • Dermatitis
  • Roughened skin texture
  • Dehydration - Increases water loss through the skin (TEWL)
  • Epidermal hyperproliferation (increased cell build up)
  • Acne (deficiency in linoleic acid creates higher ratio of oleic acid in follicle makes sebum sticky and thick)
  • Allergy prone skins

Other signs of EFA deficiency are:

  • Hair loss
  • Dandruff
  • Hair depigmentation
  • Poor wound healing
  • Soft or brittle nails.

So, as you can see many skin disorders may be due to a lack of EFAs within the skin.

Dietary intake of EFAs comes from the following sources:

  • Omega 6 (Linoleic acid) – mainly vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, fish and eggs.
  • Gamma- Linoleic acid – Borage and Evening primrose oil. (Smaller amounts are also present in Blackcurrant seed oil and Hemp seed oil).
  • Omega 3 - Flaxseed, green leafy vegetable, walnuts, soybeans, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna.

Besides inadequate dietary intake of EFA’s other factors may contribute to poor bioavailability such as:

  • Vitamin B6 deficiency can result in deficient enzymes needed for processing of dietary EFAs into active forms for the body. Low Vitamin B6 can be caused by Oral Contraceptive Pill, Excessive alcohol consumption, Ageing and Autoimmune disorders.
  • Other signs of B6 deficiency can be skin rashes, seborrheic dermatitis,        perioral dermatitis, cracks in the corner of the mouth, and scaling or peeling lips.
  • Western diets high in saturated fats and sugar can also impair conversion of EFA’s to their active form. Diets high in saturated fat can also reduce ceramide synthesis, weakening the skin barrier.
  • High intake of trans-fatty acids (margarine, commercially baked goods, take-away foods) can also interfere with enzymes need for EFA processing. High dietary trans-fatty acids can also make the skin more prone to UV damage and acne.
  • Ageing, and chronic illness, poor nutrition intake can also cause EFA deficiency.

When to supplement with EFA’s for the skin and which type to take?

If your skin is chronically dry and dehydrated, as well as being prone to rashes and breakouts, or if you have mature age skin, it is a good idea to supplement with and Omega 6 EFA’s, in particular, with high amounts of GLA.

I am aware that many guidelines in EFA supplementation suggest that we have far too much Omega 6 already in the diet, (in comparison to Omega 3) however, as explained factors can exist that impede the processing and delivery of EFAs to the skin where it is most needed.

Not all omega-6 fatty acids are the same. Most omega-6 fatty acids in our Western diet come from processed vegetable oils—promoters of inflammation.

GLA has a different action in the body than Linoleic acid, helps reduce inflammation. There is some evidence to suggest it may even protect DNA.

Supplementing with oils high in GLA elevates concentrations of dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (DGLA), which blocks the production of inflammatory mediators. These oils are particularly good if you suffer from skin allergies as well as chronically dry skin.

Evening Primrose, Black Currant seed oil and Borage Seed oil all contain a high amount of gamma‐linolenic acid(GLA). Borage oil has the highest concentration of GLA.

The recommended dose for EPO or Borage oil is 1 to 1.5 grams per day.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplementation (EPA / DHA)

Omega 3 fatty acids only comprise approximately 2% of total skin lipids, so they are less crucial for healthy structure and functioning of the skin, however they do have an anti-inflammatory benefit, and are an essential part of nutrient intake. Lack of Linoleic acid and GLA may trigger skin imbalances and disorders but the resulting inflammation can be relieved with Omega 3 EPA / DHA supplementation.

  • Omega-3 EFAs can protect against the damaging effects of sunlight by modulating the UVR-induced inflammatory response in the skin.
  • Omega 3 EFA’s can also have a protective affect on skin aging by reducing inflammation within the skin.
  • Omega 3 EFA’s can also be of benefit to other inflammatory skin disorders such as Psoriasis.
  • Omega 3 EFA’s are more indicated where there is systemic, chronic inflammation.

So, to sum everything up, if you have dry, dehydrated, allergy prone or sensitive skin an Omega 6 GLA (Borage Oil or EPO) based supplement will help to improve the skin’s condition. It is recommended to take Omega 6 GLA supplement along with an EPA / DHA supplement for a balanced approach.

Read article "What are the Best Omega 3 Supplements to Take?".

Can topical application of lipids benefit the skin?

Yes, topical application on a blend of critical skin lipids can replace what is lacking in the diet and repair the imbalances that results in the skin as is listed above.

This balance of the types of lipids in the skin is critical to skin health and recovery, so you need an effective combination of skin- identical lipids for repair to take place. Therefore, the lipids in GENUS skin are carefully chosen to contain Linoleic acid, Gamma-linoleic acid, phospholipids, ceramides, sterols, squalane, and other fatty acids in order to have complete synergy with the skin.





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