Although fish and flaxseed have always been considered healthy, there seems to be more talk than ever about the benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. And for good reason: more and more research seems to indicate that these fatty acids are good not only for your skin, but also for your brain, circulation, heart, and overall well-being.
Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha linoleic acid and eicopentaenoic acids, according to The Prescription for Nutritional Healing. The text also states that sources of omega-3’s include deep seawater fish, fish oil, and several vegetable oils, including canola, flaxseed, and walnut. In the skin, it has been suggested in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology that omega-3 consumption via fish oil reduces UVB-induced prostaglandin levels, which are partially responsible for inflammation, and further increases the threshold of UVB light allowed before damage occurs. Other research also indicates that fish oil reduces inflammation in the skin, and limited research suggests further that omega-3 consumption may stimulate fibroblast production of collagen.
On the other hand, omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic and gamma linoleic acids derived from raw nuts, seeds, legumes, primrose oil, sesame seeds, and soybeans, according to The Prescription for Nutritional Healing. However, research cited in The Prescription for Nutritional Healing from the British journal The Lancet states that omega-3’s are better than omega-6’s for the heart, based on limited research.
Although some skin care products include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, the best source of omega-3 and omega-6 come directly from oral consumption, whether via nutritional sources or a supplement. This is because most research concerning the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on the skin were done after animal or human consumption of the ingredients, rather than topical absorption. Further, oral consumption of a beneficial ingredient has been proven to be more effective than topical application, though use through both means is best. My favorite source is GNC Double Strength Fish Oil ($15.99 for 90 softgels with 600 mg total EPA/DHA, Drugstore.com), which is great because it is a medium-sized capsule that actually provides 600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. Most supplements of omega-3 state “1000 mg,” which usually means that the capsule itself is 1000 mg, but you usually only get 120-300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids (kind-of a rip off!) The GNC Double Strength Fish Oil is definitely a better buy, and certainly cheaper than Dr. Perricone’s version, as the blog Truth In Skincare points out is unnecessarily expensive. And if you prefer to get your omega-3’s from food, be sure to consult this list to learn which fish have the highest (and most dangerous) mercury levels, so you can make the healthiest choices.
Overall, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids appear to have great anti-inflammatory and perhaps even collagen-stimulating effects for the skin, although the limited research suggests that nutritional sources may be more beneficial than topical. At any rate, I’ll update if new information or product surfaces!