You might have heard of some of these…
Essential fatty acids
Omega 3, 6 and 9
Are they all the same thing? Is one type better than another?
Whether you’re talking about fatty acids, essential fatty acids or omegas – you’re talking about what are known as fats…fats that are really good for your skin.
There are TWO kinds of fats that our bodies need and use
Essential fats – also described as essential fatty acids (EFA’s) or essential omegas
Non-essential fats – also called fatty acids, or non-essential omegas.
The difference is really simple. Your body cannot make essential fats, they need to be fed to the body – either ingested or applied. For the non-essential kind, the opposite is true. There are three main types of ‘omegas’: omega-3, 6 and 9 – the ‘Three Omegas’:
Omega 3’s are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are an “essential” fatty acid because the body cannot produce them on its own.
ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, is found in some vegetable oils, nuts (mainly walnuts), leafy vegetables, and grass-fed animal fat
EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, mainly from fish oils
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, mainly from fish oils.
Omega-6’s are polyunsaturated fatty acids, considered essential fatty acids because the body cannot produce them on its own. They are found in meat, poultry and eggs, as well as nut and plant based oils.
LA, or linoleic acid, is an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid
GLA, or gamma-linolenic acid, also is an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid. However, it differs slightly from LA, and is found in different food sources and Evening Primrose Oil
AA, or arachidonic acid, is manufactured in the body and only becomes essential if there is a deficiency in linoleic acid, or if there is an inability to convert linoleic acid to arachidonic acid.
Dogs can manufacture arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, or gamma-linolenic acid. Cats cannot. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fats and must therefore be included as part of a cats diet – but not dogs. Like dogs, cats also require linoleic acid. So, don’t allow your cat to eat dog food!
Omega 9’s are monounsaturated fatty acids. They can be produced by the body and are therefore non-essential, but are also found in vegetables, nuts and seed oils.
Oleic acid is the primary omega 9 fatty acid
Oleic acid is a much maligned topical ingredient but in certain ratios works synergistically with linoleic acid on the skin. It plays an important role in assisting actives to penetrate the stratum corneum and is a natural component of your skin sebum.
There are TWO main essential fatty acids that your body cannot make itself – linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. The old-school name for these 2 essential fatty acids is Vitamin F
Omega Fatty Acids and Their Role In Skin Health
The omega’s play a critical role in normal skin function and appearance. They influence the inflammatory response of the skin and play an important role in the structural integrity and barrier function of the skin.
Essential fatty acids can help protect you from:
Scaly dermatitis, eczema type reactions
Acne and spots
Poor and slow healing or an unhealthy skin complexion
Premature signs of ageing
Both topical and oral supplementation are effective ways to deliver essential fatty acids to the skin. Topical application of certain omegas lessens UV-induced photo damage, signs of skin aging and inflammatory skin responses.
A significant portion of ingested essential fatty acids may be oxidised by the liver before reaching the skin. This means topical application can be a more efficient route of delivery for skincare applications
The two fatty acids that are most important for skincare are oleic acid (omega-9) and linoleic acid (omega-6)
Linoleic acid is a vital component in normal sebum and does what it is supposed to – protect the skin. Skin/sebum in those prone to acne and other skin problems, have been found to be deficient in linoleic acid. When linoleic acid is not present, or is present at much-reduced levels, sebum is produced with oleic acid only and is more likely to cause follicular blockage and breakout.
Like oleic acid, linoleic acid is anti-inflammatory and helps stimulate cell regeneration but it’s not as penetrating and moisturising as oleic acid and works best when mixed with oleic acid. And “normal” human sebum contains oleic acid.
Some skin facts about linoleic acid
Acne prone skin has abnormally low levels of linoleic acid
Linoleic acid is a component of the ceramides that make skin strong and impermeable and thus less easily ruptured and less sensitive to irritations
Low linoleic acid levels can be changed with topical application
Grape seed, Rosehip and Safflower oils contain >70% linoleic acid
Linoleic acid inhibits the enzymes that convert testosterone to DHT. Both types. So it can help with hirsutism, hairloss and acne (DHT is like a turbocharged testosterone that increases sebum production, leading to oily skin, blocked pores and breakout)
Linoleic acid is anti-inflammatory and protects the skin from UV damage
Linoleic Acid inhibits melanin and thus fades hyperpigmentation
Linoleic acid is antibacertial (controls P. acnes bacteria, which is implicated in acne)
Linoleic acid deficiency causes an increase in Interleukin -1a which is an inflammatory response
Tretinoin (and Retinic A10 etc) alters the lipid profile improving the linoleic acid composition of the skin
Linoleic acid improves the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR) and retinoid X receptor (RXR) situation that regulates sebum production and hyperkeritinisation/differentiation (what Accutane affects)
Linoleic acid is involved in the formation of lamellar granules that produce the enzymes involved in normal exfoliation. They also form the armor that makes your skin strong. Acne prone skin has been found to contain fewer lamellar granules
Ceramide in a deficient skin barrier is lacking a protein called sphingosine. In winter our skin produces less sphingosine which is one reason acne often worsens in winter. Topical application of live cultured yogurt can boost production
Thyroid hormone affects lipid profile. One way that perhaps both hypo- and hyperthyroid conditions affect acne.
We don’t necessarily have a dietary or systemic deficiency in linoleic acid, just in the sebum (a genetic tendency). Therefore a topical application is the best course of action.
Examples of skin problems affected by a deficiency in linoleic acid include acne, eczema, psoriasis, keratosis pilares, hypersensitivity to allergens, and dry itchy sensitive skin of all types-aka dermatitis.
Our approach with linoleic acid
We prefer to use a carefully researched profile of water soluble forms of olive and macadamia oils in our products, to minimise pore clogging and extend product life, whilst delivering high levels of oleic and linoleic acids. OptoDerm products that contain this fatty acid profile are: Deep Cleansing Oil, Deep Cleansing Polish, and all our creams. We add shea butter glycerides, rich in stearic acid, to our cleansing oil products to help remove dirt, sweat and excess sebum from the skin.
Although its a fad at the moment, we do not advocate applying pure oils to the skin. Those rich in linoleic acid are likely to go rancid quite quickly. An example is grapeseed oil, loaded with lots of lovely linoleic and linolenic acid, but with a shelf life of only around three months. Once they go rancid, they can do the opposite of what you intended.
Don’t use coconut oil on your skin. Save it for the salad! 50% of its composition is made up of one ingredient – a long chain fatty acid called Lauric acid. It is extremely pore clogging
Enter the fourth omega
Macadamia Oil also contains palmitoleic acid, an omega-7, monounsaturated fatty acid, which is also made by the body, therefore classified as non-essential. It is an anti-aging antioxidant, found in younger skin, but diminishes as the body ages. Research has suggested that palmitoleic acid could assist in cell rejuvenation to help heal skin and reduce dermatitis and eczema.