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Skin problems can be a source of major frustration. The issues can range from acne to wrinkles and age spots, dry, dull skin, or even irritating and uncomfortable issues like dermatitis. But no matter what your particular concern, it can leave you desperate to find a long-term solution.
There are plenty of topical creams and ointments out there for every kind of skin problem you might experience, but the truth is often that sometimes your skin problems need more than just a surface-level treatment. After all, your skin is an organ, and just like any other organ in your body, problems can stem from your diet and lifestyle. For many skin problems, all the creams in the world won’t help if you want to get to the root of the issue and make a real change.
You may have heard about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, especially when it comes to supporting your heart health. It turns out that there’s another good reason that you should be getting your omega-3s: it can help your skin as well!
Interestingly enough, scientists have found that cultures that regularly get more omega-3s in their diet tend to have fewer skin issues like acne. So why is getting enough omega-3s so important if you want to maintain vibrant, healthy, and glowing skin?
How Your Diet Can Affect Your Skin
To understand how omega-3s can benefit your skin, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of your skin itself.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, acting as a protective barrier against injury, temperature changes, pathogens, and UV damage from the sun. There are three layers in your skin: the dermis, the epidermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the outermost visible layer, and it is comprised of several different compounds, including fatty acids.
To have healthy, tight, and radiant skin, you want to make sure that it stays moisturized, protected from damage, and that your body is equipped with the tools it needs to fight off any inflammation. A lot of this can come down to the quality of your diet and the nutrients that you eat.
A healthy diet, especially one full of antioxidant- and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, can help combat the damages your skin might experience and will often reflect in brighter, healthier skin in the long run.
However, a poor diet full of inflammatory foods like simple sugars can yield the opposite result, causing hormone imbalances and inflammatory reactions that show up in the form of acne, dryness, or chronic skin conditions like dermatitis.
Omega-3 fatty acids have long been used as an anti-inflammatory supplement to support and protect your body against chronic diseases like heart disease.* Now, more and more evidence is indicating that omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in maintaining the health and appearance of your skin.
What Are Omega Fatty Acids?
Fats tend to get a bad rap when it comes to healthy diets. However, some healthy fats are crucial for regulating your body systems, like omega fatty acids.
Omega fatty acids are a kind of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). In other words, they’re healthy fats that your body needs for a variety of functions. However, your body doesn't make them and needs to get them from your diet.
There are two different kinds of omega fatty acids: omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s are particularly important nutrients because of their anti-inflammatory effects.*
There are two especially crucial omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Together, these two essential healthy fats can benefit a wide range of body systems from your heart to your skin.*
Omega 3 Benefits for Skin
Part of the reason you need healthy fats in your diet is that they are part of your cells' "building blocks", including the cells that make up your skin. In fact, fatty acids are an essential compound of your epidermis, which is the visible outermost layer of your skin.
Because they are part of the structure of your skin, this also means that omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can improve the health of your skin. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids can benefit your skin in a couple of different ways:
1. Improves your skin’s barrier function
One of the most important roles of your skin is to protect the rest of your body from external damage and retain moisture inside, thus acting as an effective "barrier" between your body and your environment.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3s play a critical role here. Not only do they help form the barrier that prevents your skin from losing moisture, but they also help your skin produce the natural oils it needs to stay moisturized.
A lack of PUFAs can cause your skin to lose more moisture, thus becoming dryer and leading to visible signs like flaking, wrinkles, and fine lines. On the other hand, getting enough omega-3s has been shown to help keep your skin moisturized, balanced and can even speed up wound healing.
In addition, early research has found promising evidence that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce damage from UV light from the sun, which could prevent the development of some skin cancers.*
2. Reduces inflammation
Under normal conditions, inflammation is a tool that your body uses to protect against outside "invaders" like harmful bacteria and viruses. However, out-of-control inflammation can also lead to various adverse side effects, from acute skin conditions to more chronic issues.
Because your skin is one of the first lines of defense against potential pathogens in your environment, inflammatory reactions are some of the biggest roadblocks to clear, healthy skin. For example, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and acne are all conditions that result from inflammation.
Omega-3 supplements have long been used to combat heart disease and other chronic, inflammatory conditions, and the same thing goes for your skin. Research has shown that omega-3 supplementation can help combat these inflammatory conditions to improve the health and appearance of your skin.*
3. Impacts your gut microbiota
Your gut might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're looking for ways to improve your skin, but it turns out that the bacteria in your gut are actually a critical piece of the puzzle. This interaction between your gut health and your skin even has a name: the gut-skin axis.
Several microbes, including fungi and bacteria, live in your gut in what is collectively known as your "gut microbiome.” In addition to helping you digest foods, these microorganisms also play several roles in regulating different areas of the body, including your immune system.
Unfortunately, not all microbes in your gut are going to be beneficial, especially if you eat a poor diet or have recently experienced an illness. If your gut microbiome becomes overrun with "bad" bacteria, this is called dysbiosis and can lead to a variety of health issues, including skin problems.
One of the easiest ways to boost the health of these “good” bacteria in your gut is by eating a healthy diet. For example, probiotics are a popular supplement that can introduce more beneficial bacteria into your gut.
Omega-3s are also important for maintaining a healthy colony of beneficial microbes in your gut microbiome. There’s evidence that dietary omega-3s can help promote the growth of “good” bacteria, which leaves less room for “bad” bacteria to colonize and ultimately improves your immune function. This can help your overall health by preventing diseases, and it can also show in better, healthier skin.*
How Omega-3s Prevents Signs of Aging In Your Skin
Skin problems are often exacerbated as we age. After all, your skin is often where the first visible signs of aging can occur. Fine lines, dryness, wrinkles, and “sun spots” are some of the most common complaints when it comes to aging skin. While these conditions often come naturally as you age, there are things you can do to prevent and minimize them.
Many of these issues may stem from a lack of skin moisture, inflammation, and accumulated damage like you might receive from UV exposure from the sun over the course of your life. Because omega-3 fatty acids can improve your skin's barrier function and protect against damage, supplementation could play a big role in reducing the appearance of unwanted spots and wrinkles. Several studies have proven that an increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce the signs of aging in your skin, from wrinkles to dryness.
Omega-3 supplementation can also be a preventative measure since it can reduce damage from exposure to UVA light in the sun. This is particularly important because prolonged sun exposure without proper protection can lead to “photoaging" or signs of premature aging in your skin. It can present itself in the form of wrinkles, decreased skin elasticity, and hyperpigmented "sun spots."
How Much Omega-3s To Take For Your Skin
So it’s clear that getting enough omega-3s, in combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, could be the first step in clearing up any skin issues you might be experiencing.
As beneficial as omega-3s are for your skin health, remember that your body does not produce these fatty acids on its own. You must get them from your diet if you want to reap the full benefits of omega-3s for your skin.
As of now, there is not enough evidence to set a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for omega-3s. However, you should be getting at least 1.6 grams/day for males or 1.1 grams/day for females (and more for anyone who is currently breastfeeding or pregnant). If you aren’t eating this amount, you may see signs of an omega-3 deficiency in conditions like dry, scaly skin and rashes. You should also consult with your physician before starting any supplement.
In addition, you want to make sure that your omega-3 fatty acid supplements contain EPA and DHA, the “active” forms of omega-3s that can benefit your skin.
Oily, cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are the most well-known omega-3s DHA and EPA sources. Because of this, the current Dietary Guidelines For Americans recommends eating at least 8 ounces of seafood throughout the week.
You can also get another form of omega-3s, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), from certain plant-based foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds. It’s important to note that your body needs to convert ALA to DHA/EPA in order to reap the same benefits, and the conversion process is not always the most efficient.
So it can be hard to get omega-3s from your diet alone, especially if you don't eat fish or follow a plant-based diet. You may need to supplement your dietary omega-3s with an algae oil supplement if you want healthier, more radiant skin that is protected from developing problematic skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, and aesthetic skin issues.*
Unlike other plant-based omega-3s, algae oil is rich in EPA and DHA so that you can get your omega-3s more efficiently. Omega-3 supplementation with high-quality algae oil is an excellent place to start so you can begin to heal your skin from the inside out.