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The Skin Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These good fats do more than ward off disease—they nourish and protect your skin too
Written by 
Beth Janes
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

Like so many of Mother Nature’s powerhouse nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids don’t just target one part of your body, but rather work their magic from head to toe. Foods that are rich in these fats, like salmon, flaxseed and walnuts, also play an important role in maintaining healthy skin. In fact, some of the same properties in omega-3s that help lower your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other conditions ensure skin looks and functions its best.

Let’s take a closer look at the beauty benefits of these good fats. When you consume omega-3s…

…they protect your skin from the sun. Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatories. Research suggests that the fats protect skin cells against sun-induced inflammation and help control how the body responds to UV rays, thereby mitigating damage. Several studies have shown that unprotected skin doesn’t burn as quickly in people who take fish oil supplements. (Talk to your doctor about whether supplements are a good choice for you, and remember that applying sunscreen is still important despite taking fish oil supplements.) Omega-3 fatty acids may also fortify cell membranes, allowing them to protect other parts of the cell against harmful free radicals.

One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults who consumed a serving (3.5 ounces cooked) of omega-3-rich fish every five days, on average, over five years had fewer sun-induced lesions called actinic keratoses (AKs). These lesions, which can turn into skin cancer, often develop in older people who have sustained serious sun damage.

…they fight wrinkles. When pollution, stress and an unhealthy diet trigger inflammation, your skin’s collagen suffers, making it harder for skin to bounce back when you make facial expressions. This, in turn, can lead to wrinkles around the eyes and mouth and on the forehead. Eating more foods packed with omega-3 fatty acids, like arctic char, chia seeds, spinach and kidney beans, and other inflammation-fighting foods, helps support your skin’s structure, reducing the appearance of fine lines.

…they keep your skin hydrated. Omega-3s are a crucial part of your skin’s lipid (fat) content and help bolster its barrier function, which, when working properly, acts like a seal that keeps moisture in and irritants out. When skin is compromised, though, moisture escapes, causing skin to become dry, rough and more prone to irritation. Increasing your omega-3 intake helps strengthen that seal. In fact, researchers discovered that women who consumed half a teaspoon of omega-3-rich flaxseed oil a day increased skin hydration by 39 percent after 12 weeks. Their skin also felt significantly less rough and was less sensitive.

“To get the most inflammation-fighting omega 3s out of your flaxseed, purchase whole flaxseed and grind it fresh. Enjoy this nutritional powerhouse on salads, yogurt and oatmeal each day.”


Though most of the benefits from omega-3s come from ingesting these healthy fats in food, they can nourish skin from the outside too. Omega-3s and their sister essential fatty acids, omega-6s, both of which are found in skin, can be effective moisturizers when applied topically. Just as when you consume them, rubbing these fatty acids on your skin helps bolster the barrier and improve smoothness. You won’t find many products touting “omega-3” or “omega-6” on labels, though, so look for options with natural plant oils rich in these fats, such as flaxseed, safflower, sunflower and olive, which are common in cleansers, body and face lotions, body oils and even lip balm.

More: Essential Nutrition for Healthy Hair
          The Healthy Skin Diet

“To get the most inflammation-fighting omega 3s out of your flaxseed, purchase whole flaxseed and grind it fresh. Enjoy this nutritional powerhouse on salads, yogurt and oatmeal each day.”
Reference(s) 
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Journal of the American College of Nutrition
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
Mayo Clinic
University of Maryland Medical Center
About the author 
Beth Janes is a freelance writer with more than 10 years' experience specializing in beauty, nutrition, health and fitness. Her articles have appeared in Self, Health, Martha Stewart Living and numerous other publications. She lives in Chicago.