Repair Your Skin’s Lipid Barrier Naturally with Evening Primrose Oil Essential Fatty Acids for Hydrated, Youthful Skin from Within
From lotions to oils, serums and creams, many promise the same elusive skin destination- the fountain of youth (or something that looks like it). And what does it look like? One thing is certain, youthful skin, at any age, starts with a healthy skin barrier, also known as a lipid barrier. The lipid barrier is actually made up, in part, of your skin’s own natural fats. This is the same skin barrier that, unfortunately, is also subject to harsh, drying soaps, exfoliation and product overload, as well as weather extremes. So, how exactly can you maintain or even repair your skin’s lipid barrier? A healthy, aka “youthful,” barrier, after all, has integrity, and skin integrity is essential for skin elasticity. Well, one big way to boost your skin’s lipid barrier is internally, believe it or not, through the consumption of certain fats, including evening primrose oil. And no, this post is not simply an excuse to consume more fat…
Keep reading to find out how essential fatty acids, such as those in evening primrose oil, may actually help maintain or restore your skin’s lipid barrier from the inside out…
I am not a doctor, but I do like to read & follow medical & health research. When I find research that may be beneficial, I like to share these medical & scientific sources with readers. The reader can then scrutinize, debate and draw conclusions using the links I have provided. If you are interested in evening primrose oil, please consult a licensed physician or medical practitioner to discover if evening primrose oil supplementation is right for you since each individual has their own unique genetics, sensitivities and reactions. Now, on with the show…
What Is Evening Primrose Oil? A Folk Remedy Rooted in Centuries of Tradition
Evening primrose oil (“EPO”), Oenothera biennis, is a thick plant-based oil with a long history of skin healing and medicinal uses. As a flowering plant native to North America, it was used by Native American tribes, including Cherokees, Iroquois and Ojibwe, for its both its nutritive and medicinal benefits. Evening primrose oil was traditionally extracted from the plant’s seeds, while the plant’s roots and leaves were often boiled into a tea. Evening primrose oil’s therapeutic benefits were quite legendary and used to treat everything from digestive and reproductive ailments, including menstrual pain, to sore throats and even obesity. In addition to its internal uses, the oil, along with its roots, which could be fashioned into a warm poultice, were often applied topically to treat inflammation in wounds, boils and even hemorrhoids.
Evening Primrose Oil in Germany
The primrose plant was later brought to Europe where the gamma-linolenic acid-rich oil extracted from primrose plant’s seeds became prized for its numerous health benefits. In Germany in particular, EPO was used to maintain healthy, hydrated skin, and improve skin elasticity. EPO’s anti-inflammatory and endocrine benefits also made it a popular remedy to treat menstrual issues, as well as to relieve eczema and acne-related inflammation.
To find out how evening primrose oil may improve your skin barrier function & elasticity, as well as overall health, just keep reading…
Did You Know…? A Remedy Fit for a King
In 17th century Europe, evening primrose oil was such a popular folk remedy that it became known as the “King’s Cure-All…”
The Importance of EFA’s for Good Health
It turns out evening primrose oil contains large amounts of essential fatty acids (“EFAs”), including up to 10-15% gamma-linolenic acid (“GLA”). Why is this so great? As the name implies, essential fatty acids, including omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (“PUFAs”), as well as omega-3 PUFAs, are essential because they are necessary for good health yet cannot be manufactured by the body itself.
Low fat diets of the 1980’s notwithstanding, I think we all know by now that fat consumption in the diet is a necessity for proper growth and brain functioning. EFAs, also known as exogenous fatty acids, have also been found vital to stimulate hair and skin growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system.
**Did You Know…? The Importance of Essential Fatty Acids for Normal Brain Function & Behavior
EFAs are actually critical for normal functioning of the brain as well as behavior. Studies suggest that children with attention deficit disorder (“ADHD”) often have lower levels of essential fatty acids of both the omega-6 and omega-3 variety.
Read on for more inflammatory conditions that may benefit from evening primrose oil intake…
The Importance of Essential Fatty Acids for Healthy Skin
But, back to EFAs & their critical role in skin health, function & appearance….
EFAs have documented roles in the functioning of both the dermal and epidermal layers of skin. Of course, the skin’s appearance is linked to its functional health. EFAs are so important to the body, and the skin in particular, that there is actually a name for when you don’t get enough EFAs, Essential fatty acid deficiency or “EFAD”.
How Does an Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Affect Skin?
Essential fatty acid deficiency is a condition that has been shown to manifest itself in humans as dermatitis (scaling and dryness of skin) and increased trans-epidermal water loss (“TEWL”). Chronic dryness and TEWL can open the door to a host of other skin conditions that can accelerate skin aging and loss of elasticity.
The Importance of Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids for Skin Barrier Function
Studies have shown that consuming oils rich in omega-6 or omega-3 EFAs can alter the skin’s fatty acid composition and inflammatory response. EFAs are incorporated into lipids in the epidermis which then combine with proteins to provide the all-important skin lipid barrier. As the referenced studies have demonstrated, Omega-6 EFAs in particular, play an important role in the structural integrity and barrier function of the skin.
Omega-6 Vs. Omega-3 EFAs Impact on Skin Barrier Function
The specific role of omega-6 EFAs in skin barrier function was observed in several experiments where EFA deficiency was induced in animal subjects. This was accomplished by feeding the animal subjects a hydrogenated coconut oil diet (which is completely lacking in EFAs). Thereafter, the ability of supplemented EFAs to correct the deficiency was assessed. It turns out, supplementation with omega-6 rich safflower or primrose oil was observed to correct the effects of the EFA deficiency, while omega-3 rich fish oil had no such effect.
Of course, omega-3 EFAs are good for other things, and you want to ensure that you get a balance of both in your diet, as we discuss below…
More Scientific Evidence on Evening Primrose Oil’s Effects on the Skin Barrier
Let’s look at more studies documenting how EFAs in evening primrose oil affect skin integrity. A 2005 double-blind, placebo-controlled National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) study tested the effect of Efamol Evening Primrose oil oral supplementation on skin moisture, trans-epidermal water loss (“TEWL”), redness, firmness, elasticity, fatigue resistance and roughness. These are all considered biophysical skin parameters, which help measure age-related changes in skin tissue.
After 12 weeks, the results of the study indicated that all measured variables, with the exception of skin redness, were improved in the group that was administered daily oral supplementation of evening primrose oil capsules versus those who received a placebo.
In other words, skin moisture, trans-epidermal water loss (“TEWL”), elasticity, firmness, fatigue resistance and roughness had all significantly improved in the EPO subjects over the 12-week period. This lends support to the notion that optimal skin structure and function depends on supplementation with gamma-linolenic (“GLA”)-rich essential fatty acids (“EFAs”), such as evening primrose oil.
The Importance of Balance in EFA Consumption
Needless to say, since the body cannot manufacture them, essential fatty acids must be obtained through diet or supplementation. However, it is vital that a balance of the right kind of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are ingested. Getting the correct type of EFAs is what leads to good health.
There is plenty of debate even amongst nutritionists as to what constitutes the correct ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in one’s diet. One thing is certain, however. The typical Western diet, unfortunately, does not provide the best PUFAs. If anything, the typical diet usually supplies far too many omega-6 fats of a particular type….
So, you are probably wondering, if our diet already provides more omega-6’s than omega-3’s, why supplement with EPO or another omega-6 oil such as Borage oil…?
Not All Omega-6 Fatty Acids Behave the Same
The average American diet tends to be very high in certain vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, cottonseed and canola oil, which are all omega-6 PUFAs, but of the pro-inflammatory variety. These omega-6 oils are high in linoleic acid (“LA”), and linoleic acid is often metabolized by the body into more pro-inflammatory substances.
While some of the “good” omega-6 PUFAs, including EPO, also contain LA, they also contain the all-important GLA which promotes anti-inflammatory action and conversion into GLA, as we discover below…
Linoleic Acid Is Not All Bad When Paired with Gamma Linolenic Acid
Linoleic acid (“LA”) is actually the most abundant PUFA present in the epidermis. According to research, the presence of linoleic acid in the all-important ceramide lipids comprising the top layer of skin directly correlates with permeability barrier function of the skin.
Why are evening primrose oil, borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil, and hemp oil, all omega-6 PUFAs, considered anti-inflammatory, while other omega-6 PUFAs are not?
The Role of Gamma Linolenic Acid in Combatting Inflammation
GLA happens to be the most therapeutic of the omega-6 oil family and is an exceptionally powerful anti-inflammatory fatty acid. It is also relatively rare and is found in very few plants. As noted above, in addition to evening primrose oil, borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil, and hemp oil also contain anti-inflammatory GLA. Spirulina, also known as blue-green algae, is another source of GLA.
Gamma Linolenic Acid Combats Inflammatory Conditions & May Benefit Endocrine Heath
In addition to its skin benefits, GLA’s anti-inflammatory powers have been known to treat various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and even asthma. The anti-inflammatory properties also benefit the female reproductive system and female hormones, especially if you are menopausal.
Gamma Linolenic Acid Promotes Heart Health
GLA is even recommended to treat inflammation of the arteries caused by cardiovascular disease and corresponding high blood pressure, showing promise for maintaining optimal heart health.
**TIP! Consume Healthy Omega-3 EFAs Along with Omega-6 EFAs
More Studies on Evening Primrose Oil’s Effect on Skin: Evening Primrose Oil & Atopic Dermatitis
Another NIH study conducted in 2014 found that oral supplementation of EPO may be effective in treating atopic dermatitis (“AD”). Some authors have proposed that patients with AD may have certain enzyme activity that is defective in converting EFAs in the body, causing lower concentrations of the all-important GLA. Sure enough, in this study, we see how AD is correlated with a deficiency in a particular enzyme responsible for converting pro-inflammatory LA to GLA, and how supplementation with EPO resulted in a significant increase in blood levels of GLA. This increase in GLA was also associated with an improvement of symptoms in patients with AD.
Evening Primrose Oil Supplementation to Combat Atopic Dermatitis, Acne & Eczema
As we have seen, the relatively high concentration of anti-inflammatory GLA has been shown to be beneficial for acne, eczema, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis by helping to reduce inflammation known to trigger those conditions. Patients with these conditions have often been found to have imbalances in their EFA levels, whether due to genetics or other factors.
Did You Know? Factors That Could Cause Low GLA
Certain things that may interfere with your body’s ability to convert LA to anti-inflammatory GLA include:
What Makes GLA Anti-Inflammatory?
GLA is ultimately converted by the body to a group of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like substances used throughout the body). It is this final conversion that is exceptionally therapeutic.
It appears the higher concentration of GLA in omega-6 PUFAs like EPO aids in the conversion of LA to beneficial anti-inflammatory “series 1” prostaglandins.
So, as we can see, not all omega-6 fatty acids behave the same. With other types of omega-6 EFAs that lack GLA, the enzymatic conversion of linoleic acid to arachidonic acid (“AA”) may form pro-inflammatory compounds, including “series 2” prostaglandins.
Supplementation with Evening Primrose Oil EFAs May Help Combat Pro-Inflammatory Lifestyles
Whether inflammation results from diet, aging, or from too many harsh, dehydrating products, supplemental EFAs may offer multiple beneficial anti-inflammatory effects when taken in accordance with directions.
Use & Safety of Evening Primrose Oil
EPO is generally considered safe for use in the short-term. The safety of long-term use has not been studied. Consult with your physician to find out if EPO is right for you, and always research the company brand to ensure you purchase a quality product. Remember that supplements are not monitored for quality by the Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”). Side effects are considered mild and can include upset stomach, stomach pain, loose stools or a mild headache. Any of these side effects may indicate the dosage is too high. Take the least amount possible to prevent side effects.
Conclusion: Repair the Skin Lipid Barrier Naturally with Evening Primrose Oil Essential Fatty Acids for Youthful Skin
From heart health to joint health to women’s health, as we have seen, GLA-rich evening primrose oil is a promising remedy for many types of inflammatory ailments. Backed by scientific studies and rooted in centuries of tradition here and abroad, evening primrose oil’s rich concentration of essential fatty acids offers many holistic health benefits, including potentially boosting your skin’s fragile lipid barrier. And, of course, a healthy skin lipid barrier is the first step to stronger, more youthful skin from the inside out.
Have you ever tried evening primrose oil or any essential fatty acids for skin health or any other conditions? Share your experience & results in the comments!