You have probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids being mentioned for optimum skin health, but what exactly are they, and what do they actually do?
Well, omega-3 fatty acids can make a huge difference to the health and appearance of your skin, making this nutrient one well worth learning more about.
Here is everything you need to know about how to moisturize your skin, both internally and externally, with omega-3 fatty acids.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
There are several different types of essential fatty acids out there, and omega-3 fatty acids are one of these.
The body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own, meaning that it is vital that you are obtaining enough from your diet.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids that the body needs. These are:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
What’s the difference between them?
DHA and EPA are referred to as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, because they contain at least 20 different carbon compounds. These are the most nutritional omega-3s, and can be found in highest concentrations in oily fish.
What about ALA?
This is a medium-chain omega-3 fatty acid and can be found in plant-based sources. The body uses ALA to create DHA and EPA, but can only really do this in small amounts.
What Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Do for the Skin?
Whether you consume them or apply them topically, omega-3 fatty acids have some fantastic skin benefits.
The most significant one is in relation to skin hydration.
Your skin’s outer layer consists of lipids, and these are partly made up of omega-3 fatty acids. These lipids help to keep the skin’s protective barrier functioning optimally.
What does the skin’s protective barrier actually do?
It has two main functions:
- Keeping moisture in the skin by preventing it from evaporating
- Preventing irritants, bacteria and other unwanted substances from entering into the skin
By increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you thicken and strengthen your skin’s natural protective barrier, enabling it to do its job even better.
The most noticeable result tends to be the increase in skin hydration, with research showing that this can improve by 39% in just 12 weeks.
Of course, along with an increase in hydration comes a decrease in the visible signs of aging.
Hydrated skin cells are softer, more supple and more elastic, and this will show through in your complexion.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also able to increase the production of collagen in the skin. Collagen is one of your skin’s structural proteins, and gives your skin its firmness and smoothness.
Although your skin naturally produces collagen on its own, the rate at which it does so declines with age. Not only that, but collagen is also destroyed by everything from pollution to sun exposure. All of this leads to accelerated skin aging, particularly when it comes to fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. Boosting this back up with omega-3 fatty acids helps to prevent all this, giving your skin a youthful smoothness.
If all of that wasn’t enough…
Omega-3 fatty acids are also able to protect the skin from sun damage.
By controlling the way in which the body responds when exposed to UV rays. Omega-3 fatty acids prevent sun-induced inflammation from occurring. In fact, there are a number of studies that show how unprotected skin burns much faster if the person hasn’t been taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
The omega-3s also strengthen the individual cell membranes in your skin. This enables them to better protect themselves from the free radicals that are caused by sun exposure.
Do you suffer from acne?
Omega-3 fatty acids can help with this too. They are able to regulate oil production, preventing your skin from producing excess sebum. They also help to keep pores unclogged, preventing blockages that would have otherwise led to a breakout.
Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The best way to feed your skin with omega-3 fatty acids is internally through your diet.
When these fatty acids are consumed, they are absorbed by the intestine and then processed by the liver, after which they are delivered to your skin cells.
Here are some of the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids:
Oily fish is the term for a few different types of fish that are particularly high in omega fatty acids.
The best oily fish to eat are:
- Mackerel – usually smoked and eaten whole, and are packed with nutrients
- Salmon – one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there
- Herring – also known as kippers in the UK, herring is a great source of omega-3s, along with vitamins D and B12
- Oysters – not only high in omega-3s, but oysters also contain more zinc than any other food source out there. Technically, oysters are a shellfish and don’t count as an oily fish
- Sardines – extremely nutritious, containing just about every nutrient that your body could need
Worried about the health risks that have recently been brought to light on the topic of eating oily fish?
Waterways all over the planet are being suffocated with toxins, heavy metals and more. Pollutants are seriously contaminating the fish that humans eat. One pollutant in particular, mercury, is known for being a nerve poison, and can quickly build up in the body and cause some serious health problems.
How do you know which fish is safe to eat?
Generally, smaller fish contain less contaminants, as they would be lower down on the food chain in the water. They also tend to be available in more abundance, meaning that you don’t need to worry about over-fishing quite as much.
The fish mentioned above are all quite small fish, meaning that their toxicity levels are low.
However, salmon is an exception…
Farmed salmon can contain up to seven times more toxic elements than wild salmon, although this does obviously vary depending on the farm. Try to go for wild salmon whenever possible, ensuring that this has come from a sustainable source.
Flaxseeds are tiny seeds that are often used to make an oil.
When it comes to the best plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids out there, flax seeds are the winner.
Not only are they a good source of omega-3s, but they also contain several other important nutrients, including vitamin E and magnesium.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind…
Flaxseeds contain ALAs, rather than EPAs or DHAs.
This means that your body will need to work much harder to convert it into the form of omega-3 that it needs.
If all of your omega-3 intake is coming from plant-based sources…
You need to make sure that you are consuming enough of these. A supplement may be required, and this will be discussed in more detail further down.
Just like flaxseeds, chia seeds are also extremely high in ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
They also bring with them several other health benefits, such as:
- Extremely nutrient-dense
- Packed with antioxidants
- Low in carbs and calories
- High in quality protein
- High in bone nutrients
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Never eaten chia seeds before?
They can be added in raw form to just about anything, whether this may be a dish of vegetables and rice or a bowl of cereal.
Around 65% of a walnut is composed of fat, and these are fats that you want in your diet. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids are a part of this, with just a single serving of walnuts able to provide you with your recommended daily allowance of omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only that, but walnuts are nutrient-dense, and can help with a number of other health issues.
In particular, walnuts are known for being effective at boosting brain function. Studies show that walnuts are able to improve memory and learning, while reducing feelings of anxiety.
Walnuts are an easy food to incorporate into your diet, as they can be snacked on throughout the day.
Worried that you’re not getting enough omega-3s through your diet?
While whole food forms of this fatty acid are always preferable, supplements can help to make sure that your body, along with your skin, is getting all it needs.
Natural fish oils, such as salmon oil, sardine oil and cod liver oil, are the best type of omega-3 supplement. These oils naturally contain other vitamins, such as A and D, and fats, all of which help your body to absorb the omega-3 fatty acids better.
When purchasing a fish oil, make sure that you aren’t going for a processed version. These are what you will usually fin din capsule form, but the body doesn’t absorb the omega-3s from processed oils as well as it does with natural oils.
Looking for a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement?
Algal oil is probably your best option. This comes from marine algae, and is not only a source of ALA, but also DHA. In fact, algal oil has been shown to be higher in DHA than fish oil. Of course, unlike fish oil, algal oil is free of contaminants.
It is also sustainable and environmentally friendly, while being packed with other nutrients, making it a good option for whether you are a vegetarian or not!
Using Omega-3 Fatty Acids Topically
While consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids is the ideal way to nourish your skin, using them topically can sometimes bring about faster results.
Well, as mentioned earlier, your liver needs to process the omega-3 fatty acids before sending them out to your skin. During this processing, a large amount of the fatty acids can sometimes end up oxidized, meaning that the skin doesn’t receive quite as much as it needs. This is particularly true of ALAs, with up to 60% of them being oxidized by the liver.
Applying them topically means that your skin is able to directly benefit from them. This can be especially important if you are trying to treat a specific skin issue with essential fatty acids, such as:
- Dry skin
- Protection from extreme weather conditions, including strong winds, cold temperatures and strong sun
There are a number of skin care ingredients out there that are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as:
- Rosehip oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Sesame seed oil
- Jojoba oil
- Kuikui nut oil
As you can see, these are all oils. This is because the way in which the oil is extracted doesn’t degrade the plant’s omega-3 fatty acid content.
Don’t want to use an oil on your skin because your skin is already oily?
If this is the case, then jojoba oil is the one you need to go for.
The molecular structure of jojoba oil closely resembles that of the sebum produced by the skin itself. When you apply jojoba oil onto oily skin, it tricks the skin into believing that this is its own oil. In response to this, it then cuts back on its own sebum production, helping you to prevent oily skin in the future.
Never used an oil on your skin before?
It is best applied at the end of your skin care routine. As you know, oil and water do not mix. If you apply an oil to your skin and then follow this up with a water-based product, that second product will be blocked from penetrating into your skin. An oil helps to seal other ingredients in, making it the perfect way to end your routine.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not only important when it comes to keeping your skin moisturized, but are essential for overall health as well. By making sure that you are consuming plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, and combining this with the use of omega-3s topically, you will soon notice your skin taking on a smoother, softer and more supple appearance.