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.
What the deficiency is
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 and sebum.
Sebum is a critical lubricating substance produced by sebaceous glands, which linoleic acid is a vital component of.
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 nutrients 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, Source).
These deficiencies can be corrected internally and topically
Topically applying linoleic acid-rich oils will help to balance sebum production and oiliness that is often associated with acne because the skin will stop overproducing oleic acid.
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.
Carrier oils for acne-prone skin
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 $$$ being the highest.
- Evening primrose oil - $$
- Linoleic: 72.6%
- Oleic: 8.4%
- GLA: 9.1%
- Hemp seed oil (learn more about hemp oil skin benefits here) - $
- Linoleic: 51.96%
- Oleic: 9.85%
- ALA: 10.07%
- GLA: 2 - 4%
- SDA: 1 - 2%
- Safflower oil (high linoleic variety) - $
- Linoleic: 68 - 85%
- Oleic: 8 - 30%
- Grapeseed oil - $
- Linoleic: 70.6%
- Oleic: 16.2%
- Pumpkin seed oil - $
- Linoleic: 57.2%
- Oleic: 23.3%
- Black cumin seed oil - $$$
- Linoleic: 55.6%
- Oleic: 22.6%
- Rosehip seed oil - $$$
- Linoleic: 44.1%
- Oleic: 13.9%
- ALA: 33.9%
- Borage seed oil - $$$
- Linoleic: 38.8%
- Oleic: 17.9%
- GLA: 20.1%
- Soybean oil - $
- Linoleic: 52.97%
- Oleic: 22.72%
- ALA: 6.95%
Oils slightly higher in linoleic than oleic acid
- Kuikui nut oil - $
- Linoleic: 39.8%
- Oleic: 25.4%
- ALA: 25.6%
- Sesame oil - $
- Linoleic: 45.69%
- Oleic: 39.21%
Optional: tea tree essential oil
P. acnes is a bacteria that has been linked to acne. Tea tree essential oil is a strong antibacterial, and a few drops can be added to carrier oils for its added benefits.
It's important to buy certified organic oils that have been cold-pressed (extracted using a 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.