Contrary to what skin care experts and dermatologists tell us, acne sufferers have an essential fatty acid deficiency in their skin.
This deficiency plays a major role in the severity of the condition, and supplementing it with the correct nutrients can normalize the inflammatory-related symptoms.
Why linoleic acid is vital for treating acne
The chemical imbalances involved with acne
Our skin is primarily made up of lipids such as essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, which play a crucial role in our skin's barrier function.
It has been shown in studies that those with acne have abnormally low levels of linoleic fatty acid in their skin, which is an omega-6 essential fatty acid.
Linoleic acid and oleic acid imbalance
When linoleic acid is lacking in the skin, it overcompensates by producing more oleic acid which enlarges sebum.
Sebum is a critical lubricating substance produced by sebaceous glands, which linoleic acid is a vital component of.
P. acnes overgrowth
P. acnes (propionibacterium acnes) is a bacteria that's a part of the normal flora of the skin and other parts of the body.
The overgrowth of P. acnes is directly linked to acne breakouts, and not surprisingly, the overproduction of oleic acid.
How acne develops
- Oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid) replaces linoleic acid in the sebum when it's lacking in the skin, leading to an inflammatory response and overproduction of sebum.
- The resulting excess sebum increases oily skin and leads to acne breakouts, and tends to cause irritations.
Other crucial polyunsaturated fatty acids such as GLA (gamma-linolenic acid, a form of omega-6) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, a form of omega-3) are also related to acne symptoms when lacking in the skin (Source).
Treatment with linoleic acid and other polyunsaturated fats topically should be the fundamental part of an acne-prone skin regimen.
These deficiencies can be corrected internally and topically
Topically applying oils rich in linoleic acid and other polyunsaturated fats will help to balance sebum production and oiliness that is often associated with acne, as they will help to limit the overproduction of oleic acid.
GLA, ALA, and linoleic acid help to reduce oily skin and breakouts by inhibiting the enzyme 5a-reductase.
This study showed a 25% reduction in the size of microcomedones over a one month period following topical linoleic acid application.
Dietary supplementation of GLA and omega-3 fatty acids can significantly decrease inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions.
How to topically treat a fatty acid deficiency
Carrier oils are the answer to balancing fatty acid levels in acne-prone skin.
Carrier oils can be used topically on the skin, are either edible or inedible, and come from a variety of sources such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Carrier oils are mainly made up of fatty acids, with linoleic and oleic usually being the most abundant.
It's very important to only use specific oils on your skin, as most can worsen the severity of acne.
Oils high in linoleic and low in oleic acids are considered "drying" oils, meaning they absorb quickly into the skin, and are extremely beneficial for all skin types - including oily, and of course acne.
Oils high in oleic and low in linoleic acids are your olive and avocado oils. They're heavier than high linoleic oils, and take longer to absorb. They can cause breakouts and lead to dry, oily, or combination skin with extended use.
The best oils high in linoleic acid for acne
I've made a list of oils below that contain high amounts of linoleic acid with low amounts of oleic acid, with their corresponding percentages.
You may want to experiment with mixing different oils together to see what works best for your skin, and if you want the added benefits of omega-3s and GLA (omega-6).
Oils high in linoleic and low in oleic fatty acids
A dollar symbol has also been assigned to each carrier oil to signify its cost, with $$$ being the highest.
1. Evening Primrose Oil – $$
Linoleic acid: 72.6%
Oleic acid: 8.4%
2. Hemp Seed Oil (learn more about hemp oil skin benefits here) – $
Linoleic acid: 51.9%
Oleic acid: 9.8%
GLA: 2% — 4%
SDA: 1% — 2%
3. Safflower Oil (high linoleic variety) - $
Linoleic acid: 68% — 85%
Oleic acid: 8% — 30%
4. Grapeseed Oil - $
Linoleic acid: 70.6%
Oleic acid: 16.2%
5. Pumpkin Seed Oil - $
Linoleic acid: 57.2%
Oleic acid: 23.3%
6. Black cumin seed oil - $$$
Linoleic acid: 55.6%
Oleic acid: 22.6%
7. Rosehip seed oil - $$$
Linoleic acid: 44.1%
Oleic acid: 13.9%
8. Borage seed oil - $$$
Linoleic acid: 38.8%
Oleic acid: 17.9%
9. Soybean oil - $
Linoleic acid: 52.9%
Oleic acid: 22.7%
Oils slightly higher in linoleic than oleic acid
1. Kuikui Nut Oil - $
Linoleic acid: 39.8%
Oleic acid: 25.4%
2. Sesame Oil - $
Linoleic acid: 45.6%
Oleic acid: 39.2%
*The percentages for each of these oils will vary due to different growing conditions.
Optional: tea tree essential oil
Tea tree essential oil is a strong antibacterial against P. acnes, and a few drops can be added to carrier oils for its benefits.
It's important to buy certified organic oils that have been cold-pressed (extracted using low heat) from reliable sources.
Non-organic oils are usually refined, contain pesticides and have a completely different fatty acid and nutrient profile than organic varieties. In fact, some non-organic oils on the market have even been found to contain harmful chemicals.
Mountain Rose Herbs is an excellent source of organic and sustainable ingredients. All of the percentages of fatty acids above are provided by Mountain Rose Herbs and are unique to their own products.
Why we developed Botanical Beauty Elixir
Treating acne with oils FAQ
Are omega-3 fatty acids good for acne?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body and skin. They help to regulate inflammation, and have been shown to be lacking in acne-prone skin.
EPA and DHA, two forms of omega-3, can significantly reduce acne lesions.
Can omega-6 fatty acids cause acne?
When taken in excess internally, omega-6 fatty acids may lead to an inflammatory response in the body, but this does not cause acne.
Linoleic acid (form of omega-6) is an integral part of the epidermis (outer layer of skin), which helps to keep the skin hydrated. It's crucial for treating and preventing acne, as people with acne have low levels of it in their skin.
When the skin is lacking linoleic acid, it overproduces oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that causes breakouts and leads to overly dry or oily skin.
Which oils are best for acne?
Oils that are high in omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids such as evening primrose and hemp, are some of the best options for treating acne.
Certain oils that have a high content of omega-9 should be avoided, as these will worsen acne. Some of these include olive oil, avocado oil, and argan oil. Learn more about these types of oils here".
Is oleic acid good for acne?
Oleic acid is directly involved in acne breakouts. It's an omega-9 non-essential fatty acid, that is produced in excess when other important nutrients are lacking in the skin.
Acne-prone skin is unusually high in oleic acid, leading to inflammation and enlarged sebum. Oleic acid has been shown to help the infamous P. acnes bacteria thrive on the skin.