Following a healthy skincare regimen throughout the year is the best way to support your body's skin for the long haul. But your diet also plays a hugely important role! Case in point: The omega-3 benefits for skin simply can't be ignored.
New research suggests a balanced gut microbiome can play a pivotal role in determining the way skin behaves. For instance, omega-3s (the fatty acids found in fish oil and other seafood) can help maintain gut health and give skin a soothed, glowing appearance. If you're not getting enough omega-3s in your diet, it's important to understand what you may be missing out on — and how to turn the situation around!
Here are answers to six of the most commonly asked questions about omega-3 benefits for skin.
1. What are omega-3 fatty acids, and what do they do for skin?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients found in certain foods. They can serve to regulate the skin's oil production, improve balanced hydration, subdue breakouts and minimize signs of aging. Omega-3s can also help soften rough, dry skin and have a soothing effect on irritation and dermatitis.
But that's not all! Research shows that regularly taking fish oil may boost the skin's immunity to UV damage and skin cancer.
2. What foods contain omega-3s?
The most well-known food to be packed with these nutrients is fish oil. Think that suggestion sounds a little too ... fishy? Flax seeds, chia seeds and soybean oil are all vegetarian sources of omega-3s. The difference is that omega-3s from fish oil are readily absorbed upon consumption, while plant forms need to be converted first in the body before they can be used.
3. How do omega-3s interact with skin?
Getting your omega-3s through fish oil supplements or other foods can improve the fatty acid composition in your skin and balance its inflammatory response. In other words, skin stays softer and less inflamed! Keeping your fatty acid levels up also helps to minimize the effect of sun damage and improve sensitive skin conditions.
4. What is the best concentration for omega-3 benefits for skin?
There's actually no set recommendation for how much omega-3 you need. However, health experts recommend adults get 500 mg per day, or the equivalent of two servings of fatty fish per week. This is your ticket to improvements in your overall wellness, not to mention supple, radiant skin.
5. What are the myths surrounding omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 supplementation is a hot topic right now, which means myths abound. One of the most common misconceptions is that any fish is a good source of omega-3s. In reality, different fish contain different levels of certain nutrients! The discrepancies are either due to the biological makeup of the fish or because they were raised in less-than-healthy conditions. Safety is also a factor. It's often best to eat smaller fish — which are less likely to contain high levels of mercury — or supplement your diet with a high-quality fish oil.
Once you've chosen the best way to get your omega-3s, keep in mind that you only need up to 500 mg per day. No need to waste your money on highly-concentrated capsules that can wind up costing you thousands!
Additionally, maybe you've read that plant sources of omega-3s work the same way as fish oil. That isn't exactly true. It's important to know that omega-3s need certain components to become active. While plant omega-3s contain the acid that rejuvenates skin, they lack the other components that unlock the awesome benefits you're after. Fish oil, on the other hand, contains both the acids and the active components.
6. What should you keep in mind when consuming omega-3s?
Not all omegas offer the same benefits. For example, omega-6 fatty acids may sound like omega-3's more powerful sibling, but in practice, the two compete for the same enzymes that activate the fatty acids in the body. When omega-6 levels are high, they can actually cause inflammation and decrease the effectiveness of omega-3s. Chances are good that your diet already includes plenty of omega-6s — most people actually tend to get too much of them!
Fish oil comes from fish that are rich in omega-3, such as mackerel and herring. Some studies suggest that fish oil may benefit people with certain skin conditions, though not all researchers agree. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), which is a type of nutrient that the body cannot make for itself. In this article, we look at fish oil for the skin, including its potential benefits, what the research says, and which skin conditions it may help. We also discuss how to use fish oil to get the maximum benefit.
Is fish oil good for the skin? Share on Pinterest MirageC/Getty Images A 2018 review in Marine Drugs notes that fish oil and its components, including omega-3, can help support the skin’s overall health. The review found evidence that fish oil can help by: maintaining homeostasis
improving barrier function
inhibiting inflammation, particularly from UV light
promoting skin healing Scientists believe that these benefits are due to the PUFAs in fish oil, which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body incorporates dietary fatty acids into cell membranes. When a cell membrane is healthy, the cell can hold water. In the skin, this results in cells being hydrated and soft. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce the production of inflammatory compounds that contribute to the aging process. Some fish oils contain other nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and selenium. Vitamin A is an antioxidant related to retinol, a popular ingredient in skin care products and a treatment for skin disorders. However, while evidence supports the idea that fish oil boosts general skin health, the research on its benefits for specific skin conditions is more mixed.
Dry skin and eczema Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common inflammatory condition of the skin. It causes itching and scaling, and the skin can sometimes crack and bleed. A 2013 research article notes that both EPA and DHA can inhibit inflammation, which may benefit the skin. Other studies on animals also show that fish oil may lessen eczema symptoms. For example, a 2015 study on rats found that supplementation reduced itch-related scratching and dryness. However, these findings do not necessarily prove that fish oil is an effective remedy for eczema in humans. A 2016 review notes that there is only limited evidence to support this benefit. Scientists need to carry out more studies involving a larger number of people to understand the value of using fish oil to alleviate eczema.
Acne Acne causes pimples and cysts, which can be inflamed and painful. For this reason, the omega-3 content in fish oil may be helpful for reducing general inflammation in the body. However, studies that focus on fish oil’s benefits for acne specifically have mixed results. A small randomized, double-blind, and controlled trial found that omega-3 supplementation decreased acne lesions significantly over the course of 10 weeks. In contrast, an investigation in Lipids in Health and Disease had mixed results. Although most of the study participants showed an improvement in their acne, others experienced worsening symptoms. Fish oil may help reduce acne in some individuals, but there is currently no strong evidence that it will help everyone.
Hyperpigmentation Hyperpigmentation describes darker patches of skin that occur as a result of increased melanin production. There are many causes of hyperpigmentation, including: hormonal changes
medications that cause sunlight sensitivity Fish oil could potentially help reduce hyperpigmentation in several ways. Omega-3 may minimize wound infections and speed up healing, which is useful in cases of hyperpigmentation that are due to skin trauma. DHA can also inhibit melanin production, which may reduce the risk of UV-induced hyperpigmentation.
Can fish oil cause skin problems? Although rare , fish oil can cause reactions in some people with allergies to fish or shellfish. The symptoms may include headaches, wheezing, diarrhea, and hives. Notably, a person with a fish or shellfish allergy who reacts to fish oil may develop eczema. Someone who already has eczema may find that their symptoms worsen. If an individual has symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to fish oil, such as difficulty breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention.
How to use fish oil People use fish oil in a variety of ways, but the easiest option is generally to take a fish oil supplement. Fish oil has a strong taste and pungent odor, so using it topically is not always suitable. Capsules help make fish oil easier to take. There is no set dosage recommendation for fish oil. However, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for EPA and DHA specifically is about 250 milligrams (mg) . The amount of EPA and DHA in fish oils varies widely, but in 1,000 mg of fish oil, people typically get 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA. According to a 2019 review , it is best to take a fish oil supplement with a meal that contains some dietary fat, as this optimizes the bioavailability of the omega-3 fatty acids. Some research reports that taking fish oil before a meal reduces potential side effects, such as acid reflux and indigestion. However, another study reported no apparent difference. As with any nutritional supplement, it is a good idea to check with a healthcare provider before beginning to take it.
Omega-3 fats are among the most studied nutrients. They’re abundant in foods like walnuts, seafood, fatty fish, and certain seed and plant oils. They’re subdivided into three types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fats are renowned for their powerful health benefits, including their potential to fight depression, lower inflammation, and reduce markers of heart disease. Plus, one lesser-known perk is that they may benefit your skin and hair ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ). Here are 6 science-based benefits of omega-3s for your skin and hair. Share on Pinterest
1. May protect against sun damage Omega-3s may protect against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Studies have shown that supplementing with a combination of DHA and EPA — two long-chain omega-3s — may reduce the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays ( 5 ). In one small study, participants who consumed 4 grams of EPA for 3 months increased their resistance to sunburns by 136%, while no significant changes were observed in the placebo group ( 6 ). In another study, participants who applied EPA- and DHA-rich sardine oil to their skin after UVB exposure experienced around 25% less skin redness, compared with the control group. However, other types of omega-3s did not exert the same effect ( 7 ). There’s some evidence that omega-3s may also reduce the severity of symptoms of certain photosensitivity disorders, including skin rashes or fluid-filled blisters following UV exposure ( 5 ). However, there are few studies on this topic, and more research is needed before conclusions can be made. summary Omega-3s may increase your skin’s resistance to sunburns, reduce the severity of skin redness after UV exposure, and alleviate the symptoms of certain photosensitivity disorders. However, more research is needed.
2. May reduce acne A diet rich in omega-3s may help prevent or reduce the severity of acne. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation, and new evidence suggests that acne may be primarily caused by inflammation. Hence, omega-3s may indirectly fight acne ( 2 , 8 ). A few studies have reported a decrease in acne lesions when supplementing with omega-3s, either alone or in combination with other nutrients ( 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 ). Omega-3 supplements also appear to reduce the side effects of isotretinoin, a drug commonly used to treat severe or resistant acne ( 13 ). However, few studies have observed the effects of omega-3s alone — rather than in combination with other compounds — and effects appear to vary by individual. Thus, more research is needed. summary Omega-3 supplements, taken either alone or in combination with other supplements, may help prevent acne or reduce its severity. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
3. May guard against dry, red, or itchy skin Omega-3s may moisturize the skin and fight red, dry, or itchy skin caused by skin disorders like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. That’s because omega-3s appear to improve skin barrier function, sealing in moisture and keeping out irritants ( 14 , 15 ). In one small study, women who consumed around half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of omega-3-rich flaxseed oil daily experienced a 39% increase in skin hydration after 12 weeks. Their skin was also less rough and sensitive than that of those in a placebo group ( 16 ). High intake of omega-3s has also been linked to a lower risk of atopic dermatitis in infants and improved psoriasis symptoms in adults. Nonetheless, other studies have been unable to replicate these results ( 17 , 18 , 19 ). The varying dosages and modes of delivery used between studies may partly account for the conflicting findings ( 20 ). Hence, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made. summary Omega-3s may hydrate your skin and protect it from irritants and skin disorders like atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. However, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.
4–6. Other potential skin and hair benefits Omega-3s may also offer additional benefits. May accelerate wound healing. Animal research suggests that omega-3s delivered intravenously or applied topically may quicken wound healing, but human research is needed ( 21 ). May reduce the risk of skin cancer. Diets rich in omega-3s may prevent tumor growth in animals. However, research in humans is needed to confirm this ( 22 , 23 ). May boost hair growth and reduce hair loss. Test-tube and animal studies suggest that omega-3s may boost hair growth. More studies on the effects of omega-3s on hair growth and loss in humans are needed ( 24 , 25 ). It’s important to note that only a small number of studies have investigated these benefits in humans. Plus, the studies often used multiple supplements at once, making it difficult to isolate the effects of omega-3s from those of other supplements. Hence, more studies are needed. summary Omega-3s may accelerate wound healing, boost hair growth, reduce hair loss, and even lower your risk of skin cancer. That said, more studies are needed to confirm these benefits.