A patient I’ve been treating for depression came in to see me last week. She was feeling amazingly good after taking a supplement I recommended for her.
But she wanted to talk about something else entirely… Turns out the omega-3 that treated her depression also rejuvenated and revived her skin.
Before taking the omega-3, her complexion was flaky, red and itchy. It was also dry and cracking, but she was still prone to breakouts. Fine lines had started to appear around her eyes.
My patient was shocked when I told her that the fatty acids in omega-3 supplements help to slow down the biological effects of aging — both inside and out.
By now you know that omega-3s — especially two of the most potent omega-3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA – are essential for good health. And that they can prevent brain shrinkage, stave off arthritis, prevent heart disease and improve eye health…
But not everyone knows how vital they are for your body’s largest organ, your skin.
Decades of research from around the world show the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for your skin. Here are five ways this fatty acid helps your complexion:
- Supports skinʼs UV defenses to protect against sun damage. The lack of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in our diet is one of the primary factors contributing to the rise of skin cancer. A study published in Experimental Dermatology found that supplementing with DHA and EPA reduces your skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays. In the study, researchers gave participants 4 grams of omega-3 every day. After 12 weeks, they were able to increase their resistance to sunburns by 136%.1
In a second trial, 20 volunteers took either a DHA/EPA capsule or a placebo for four weeks. Compared to the placebo, there was a significant reduction in UVB-induced skin damage in those who took the omega-3.2
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids reduced wrinkles around the eyes 10% in just 14 weeks.
- Protects you from skin cancer. A study funded by the American Association for International Cancer Research, found that taking a regular dose of omega-3s reduced sunlight-induced suppression of the immune system, known as immunosuppression. In other words, supplementing with omega-3 increases your body’s ability to fight skin cancer and infection.
And a second study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adults who consumed one serving of omega-3-rich fish every five days for five years had fewer sun-induced lesions called actinic keratoses (AK). These lesions, which can turn into skin cancer, often develop in older people who have sustained serious sun damage.3
- Fight wrinkles by keeping skin hydrated. As we age, cells in the outer layer of skin known as the epidermis become thinner. This decreases your skin’s barrier function — and allows moisture to escape. Omega-3s help strengthen this barrier by acting like a seal to keep moisture in and dryness away. In some cases, skin hydration increased 39% after supplementing.4 And when skin cell holds onto water, it increases wrinkle prevention and helps eliminate mild wrinkles.5
In a study of post-menopausal women, researchers gave women omega-3s for 14 weeks. By the end of the study, not only was their skin more hydrated, but wrinkle depth around the eyes was reduced by 10% compared to placebo.6
- Eliminate sagging skin by boosting collagen and elastin. Your skin’s whole structural support depends on collagen and elastin. They make your skin smooth and wrinkle-free. Most of us think of saggy skin as a sign of aging. Skin elasticity, the ability of skin to “snap back” when stretched, is seen as a sign of youth. And collagen forms a kind of latticework or scaffolding as the basis of your skin’s structure. When you have healthy collagen, you have taunt, smooth and toned skin.
One way that omega-3 can help preserve collagen and elastin is through its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation can have an effect on tissue growth, with chronic inflammation eventually leading to tissue damage. Continued exposure to inflammation can degrade the collagen and elastin in your skin.
- Clear your skin of blemishes. Omega-3s can help eliminate and prevent acne in three ways. First, EPA is converted in your body to powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial substances, calming the inflammatory response. Second, it balances hormones like testosterone that can trigger the overproduction of sebum. And lastly, it keeps the liver from producing insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1. Research shows that the more IGF-1 you produce, the more likely you are to have breakouts. 7
Protect and Repair Your Skin From the Inside Out
To get omega-3 fats in your diet, eat three or four servings a week of wild-caught salmon.
Other good sources are small, cold-water fish like herring, pollock, mackerel, lake trout, anchovies and sardines. Pastured eggs and grass-fed beef also are good choices.
But it’s hard to get what you need from food. To get the skin-saving benefits you need, you have to supplement.
Now, most doctors recommend fish oil. But the world’s fish oil supply has become contaminated with toxins. I recommend you get your omega-3s from krill and calamari oil. They’re much more absorbable than fish oils. Both of these creatures store their oils in a phospholipid form that can get into every cell in your skin.
- Take this tiny animal oil. Krill are shrimp-like animals that don’t live long enough to absorb large amounts of toxins. Look for krill oil that comes from the crystal clear, frozen waters of the Austral-Antarctic Circumpolar Ocean — possibly the purest place on earth.
- And combine it with calamari. Calamari, or squid, has one of the highest concentrations of DHA of any food. But make sure your calamari oil comes from squid that live off the coast of South America in the pure waters of the South Pacific (the argentines).
I recommend you get at least one gram of omega-3s every day. But getting three to four grams is even better.
And make sure you get at least 600 mg from DHA and 400 mg from EPA. That way, you protect every organ in your body, including your skin.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Pilkington S, et al. “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: photoprotective macronutrients.” Exp Dermatol. 2011 Jul;20(7):537-543.
2. Orengo I, et al. “Influence of fish oil supplementation on the minimal erythema dose in humans.” Arch Dermatol Res. 1992;284:219-221.
3. Hughes M, et al. “Food intake, dietary patterns, and actinic keratoses of the skin: A longitudinal study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(4):1246-1255.
4. De Spirt S, et al. “Intervention with flaxseed and borage oil supplement modulates skin condition in women.” Br J Nutr. 2009;101(3):440-445.
5. Jenkins G, et al. “Wrinkle reduction in post‐menopausal women consuming a novel oral supplement: A double‐blind placebo‐controlled randomized study.” Int J Cosmet Sci. 2014;36(1):22–31.
6. De Spirt S, et al. “Intervention with flaxseed and borage oil supplement modulates skin condition in women.” Br J Nutr. 2009;101(3):440-445.
7. Kim H, et al. “Insulin-like growth factor-1 increases the expression of inflammatory biomarkers and sebum production in cultured sebocytes.” Ann Dermatol. 2017;29(1):20-25.