Essential Fatty Acids for Skin Integrity

Written by October 2015 Sherri Seeley, Dip Med Herb – FxMed Practitioner Consultant for Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki

The skin is the body’s largest organ and is often the first visual indicator of an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) deficiency. EFA’s help to regulate oil production, by influencing the cellular membrane and its ability to hold water, resulting in more balanced dermal hydration and softer more supple, wrinkle free skin. EFA’s also support the barrier function of the epidermis, slowing down the drying process and reducing damage from UV light, which is very important under the harsh NZ sun.

Marine derived omega-3 EFA’s can assist to suppress the hyperproliferation of skin cells involved in Psoriasis &
Cancer. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) in particular slows inflammatory compounds involved in the ageing process
where the epidermal cells start to become thinner & less sticky (resulting in dry skin and symptoms such as inflamed capillaries & redness). Cod Liver Oil additionally contains natural vitamins A & D, which makes it a good choice for Acne or Rosacea sufferers. It balances out sebum production & reduces redness & swelling. Marine derived omega-3 fatty acid supplementation improves overall texture & quality of skin.

In addition to omega-3 EFA’s, there is an omega-6 EFA called Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) that is required for skin barrier function & structural integrity and can alleviate symptoms associated with skin sensitivity and associated inflammatory disorders. The body ordinarily converts GLA from Linoleic Acid (LA), an omega-6 essential fatty acid found in some foods. Very little GLA by itself is found in the average diet and in certain circumstances, the body may not be able to convert LA to GLA efficiently due to impaired activity of the enzyme delta6-desaturase. So whilst we might already get quite a lot of omega-6’s in our diet, GLA is one type of omega-6 that is beneficial to supplement and unlike it’s other omega-6 siblings, it has similar anti-inflammatory qualities to omega-3’s especially when taken alongside omega-3.

GLA can be taken internally and applied topically to treat inflammatory skin disorders like Psoriasis, Eczema &
Atopic Dermatitis. Topical application of GLA can be an effective way to supply EFA’s directly to the Epidermis & can have profound effects on the fatty acid composition of the skin. Be sure not to apply fish oils to your skin though
unless you particularly like the smell as it oxidises! Borage seed oil is the richest supplemental source (17% – 25% GLA), followed by black currant seed oil (15% – 20%) and evening primrose seed oil (7% – 10%).

Why you should take fish oils with your GLA or omega-6 supplement

GLA converts into DGLA which splits into 2 pathways – one is PgE1 which is anti-inflammatory and the other is AA which further goes onto convert to PgE2 and LTB4. By taking omega-3 EFA’s EPA and DHA at the same time as GLA the delta-5 desaturase enzyme is inhibited preventing AA formation reducing the formation of inflammatory mediators and increasing the formation of anti-inflammatory mediators.