Waking up to a clear, smooth and supple skin may seem like a distant dream.

Your skin may look dry and flaky.

Or oily, yet somehow dehydrated.

A few new spots seem to have arrived as well.

Oh, I have been there so many times. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

The common thing among these cases might be that you are missing certain omega-3s in your diet. In this post, I want to explain one of the most misunderstood nutrition topics in plain english: the world of omega-3s.

Here are a few key takeaways from the post:

  • There is not just one omega-3, there are more, and you need all of them for healthy and clear skin.
  • Plant-based omega-3s are not enough.
  • Omega-6: omega-3 ratio doesn’t matter if you follow a simple rule
  • Bad-quality, rancid fish oils might be doing more damage than good.

We’ll cover each, with simple guidelines you can follow to help you avoid some common mistakes.

FIRST…WHAT ARE OMEGA-3s?

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that perform many crucial functions in your body. Essential means we have to obtain them from food because the body cannot make them on its own.

The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are α-Linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The anti-inflammatory benefits seen in research are actually due to EPA and DHA, not ALA.

EPA and DHA are present in salmon, sardines and other fatty fish, and to a lesser degree in grass-fed meat or omega eggs. ALA can be obtained from plant sources, including chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds.

HOW OMEGA-3s HELP YOU GET HEALTHY AND SMOOTH SKIN

Omega-3s are a small but crucial part of your skin’s lipid content, which make up your skin barrier, together with the dead skin cells (corneocytes).

This is like a seal on the top of your skin, which keeps the moisture in and irritants out. Increasing your omega-3 intake helps strengthen that seal and reduce the loss of water, keeping your skin moisturized.

Adequate omega-3s in your skin also allow a good flow of nutrients and elimination of waste. Furthermore, omega-3s provide an added layer of photoprotection from the damaging effects of UV light.

EPA can reduce the collagen damage associated with photoaging, slowing down skin aging.

Omega-3s may also be able to speed up wound healing (a.k.a. after picking your skin and healing the acne scars!).

Most importantly for us here, omega 3s reduce your body’s inflammatory response. Supplementing with omega-3 has been shown to decrease the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, prostaglandins, within your skin.

HOW OMEGA-3s HELP YOU GET CLEAR SKIN

Supplementation with omega-3 has been repeatedly shown to help acne patients precisely because it reduces the inflammation.

This is important because people with acne tend to have higher levels of inflammation (referred to as oxidative stress, which is inflammatory).

Too much inflammation makes it easier for acne bacteria to populate a clogged pore, turning it into a painful acne spot.

Bottom line: Reducing inflammation helps you clear up your skin and for that, omega-3s play a vital role.

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WHY PLANT-BASED OMEGA-3s AREN’T ENOUGH

Omega-3 from plant sources (ALA) can be converted to the other omega-3s in the body, making ALA the only essential one within the omega-3 group.

However, the conversion rate to EPA and DHA is low. This is not good, because we need EPA and DHA for their anti-inflammatory actions.

In healthy young women, approximately 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% is converted to DHA. Other reports indicate even lower numbers, with only marginal conversions of ALA to EPA and DHA.

Conversion of ALA to DHA is limited in most humans.” ~ Progress in Lipid Research, 2016

The conversion rate may be even lower if a person has other nutritional deficiencies.

Bottom line: hemp seeds, hemp oil, flaxseeds and its oil, chia seeds and walnuts are not replacements for animal-based omega-3s (EPA and DHA). In reality, they complement them for optimal health and great skin.

WHAT OMEGA-3: OMEGA-6 RATIO REALLY MEANS

You might have read that the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 should be anywhere between 1:1 to 1:3.

This is partly true.

The abundance of omega-6 in the modern diet (mainly from vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, etc.) has skewed this proportion to nearly 1:30, putting your body in a chronic inflammation state.

But is the ratio itself really important? And what does it mean (if anything)?

Here’s how it works in your body:

Linoleic acid (omega-6) gets converted to arachidonic acid (AA), a precursor for inflammatory cytokines.

ALA gets converted to the anti-inflammatory precursors EPA and DHA.

Both of these conversions require the same converting machinery in your body. In other words, they compete for this machinery.

So, if you have too much omega-6 over-flooding that machinery, you won’t convert much from the ALA you eat.

Hence, inflammation!

The inflammation actually comes from not having enough EPA and DHA, which creates an inflammatory environment. Omega-6 has got all the seats in that converting machinery and is now dominating the system.

Bottom line: The problem of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is really about having enough long chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA), not so much the ratio itself.

omega-3 supplement

CHOOSE ONLY WHOLE FOODS FOR YOUR OMEGA-6

You may be wondering, does that mean I can eat all those inflammatory omega-6s, just as long I get enough long chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA)? Good question!

But um, no.

The main sources of omega-6 in the modern diet are vegetable oils – including soybean, sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, etc. For some of them (like sunflower seeds), those fats were perfectly healthy for humans while protected within the seed.

The extraction process, however, requires high temperatures (or sometimes via hexane chemical extraction, for canola oil), which damages those delicate oils – they oxidize.

When the oils oxidize, they become free radicals, and the thing about free radicals is that they begin a terrible chain reaction. They damage the next molecule, then that one becomes a free radical, and so on, amplifying the damage.

When they enter your body, they are like small pieces of shattered glass – making small injuries to the tissue around them.

They damage the cell membranes and other structures such as proteins, lipids, lipoproteins, your DNA, but also hormones like insulin, and this is very bad for acne and oily skin.

Enter oxidative stress, and yes, inflammation.

Whole food sources of omega-6, like nuts and seeds, have those delicate unsaturated fats protected. Eating them won’t bring oxidative damage into your body. On contrary, they are rich in valuable vitamins and minerals you need for great skin.

Bottom line: eating whole food sources of omega-6 shouldn’t increase inflammation when you also have enough of all omega 3s in your body, so that’s when you don’t need to worry about the famous omega-3:omega-6 ratio.

HOW TO GET ENOUGH OMEGA-3s FOR CLEAR AND RADIANT SKIN

For healthy and glowing skin, try to include foods rich in the omega-3s daily, including walnuts, flaxseed, and hemp seeds for ALA, and fatty fish (preferably wild & sustainably caught) for DHA and EPA.

However, for many of us, it is quite difficult to obtain enough EPA and DHA solely from the food we eat.
 
This is why I recommend taking a high-quality EPA and DHA supplement, like cod liver oil (I have taken it myself for over 7 years now, and it has been the key to healing my acne).

BEST OMEGA-3 SUPPLEMENTS & MISTAKES TO AVOID

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that I am not a doctor. The following information is for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as a medical advice. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplements.
A high-quality omega-3 supplement I recommend for clear skin and improving the overall skin health is cod liver oil. Specifically, I recommend Rosita Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil (available here).
 
I love cod liver oil because it is also a very rich source of the bioavailable vitamin A (hugely important for clear skin) and vitamin D (vitamin E may be added, too).
 
However, algae are the original source of omega 3s in the animal kingdom, which fish accumulateFor that reason, farmed salmon that has been fed soy pellets, for example, will contain way less omega-3s than the wild one.
 
Algae are the most sustainable option for sourcing omega 3s we have today. The research also shows that it is equivalent to the ones sourced from fish, especially DHA.
MISTAKE TO AVOID NR.1

Beware that many vegan omega 3 supplements contain only ALA, and not DHA and EPA!

You will often see supplements marked as “omega-3 supplements”, but will only contain plant-based ALA. This is not bad in itself, but remember that you also need DHA and EPA.

MISTAKE TO AVOID NR.2
Avoid rancid fish oils and bad quality omega-3 products in general. When it comes to omega-3 supplements, the quality is vital.
 
Fish oils can be rancid, meaning that the delicate fatty acids are damaged, and turned into hazardous free radicalsBad-quality fish oils and cod liver oils do more damage than good. Don’t take capsules from an untrustworthy source that are packed with various fillers, soy, etc, etc.
 
Furthermore, fish can accumulate toxins such as mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), especially big fish high up on the food chain (like tuna or swordfish). Fish oil supplements have not been found to contain similar mercury levels because they’re typically purified (not all manufacturers do that, so be careful).
MISTAKE TO AVOID NR.3
Make sure you are getting enough of DHA and EPA in your supplement.
 
Sometimes, omega-3 supplements won’t contain much DHA and EPA per capsule (for example, some krill oil capsules). Aim for about 300 – 400mg of each (EPA and DHA) for your daily omega-3 dose. Some countries recommend a little less, some more, but this dose should be enough. If you are getting your omega-3s from food in addition, lower doses should be ok, too.

SHORT SUMMARY

Get your ALA from plant sources like hemp seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, and DHA and EPA from fatty fish or an appropriate omega-3 supplement. When you get enough of DHA and EPA omega-3s, you can eat as much undamaged omega-6 from whole food sources (nuts and seeds) as you like.

However, stay away from vegetable oils (the most common source of omega-6 in the modern diet), which oxidize easily when exposed to heat and light. Following this rule makes it so much easier to get beautiful and clear skin in the long run.

In radiant skin health,

Sara

Question time! Which omega-3 supplement are you currently taking, if any? How do you get your omega-3s?

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