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Linoleic acid in skincare: The essential fatty acid you need for clearer, hydrated skin

This multipurpose Omega-6 may help you get clearer, more hydrated skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Oct 2, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Oct 2, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Chances are, you’re familiar with essential fatty acids as key contributors to a healthy diet. One type of fatty acid is linoleic acid, which we consume through our diet—it’s found in many common foods, like nuts, some fish, and leafy greens. It’s an important nutrient for our bodies, and it’s one that we can’t make ourselves. Linoleic acid (LA) has different roles in our body. It can provide us with energy and help build important components of our cells.

One of the main jobs of linoleic acid is to help maintain the health of our skin by keeping it hydrated. Here, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of linoleic acid to give you a full picture of its essential role in our overall health. 

What is linoleic acid?

Linoleic acid, sometimes referred to as vitamin F, is a type of fat referred to as an essential fatty acid (EFA). Essentially, it’s a special type of fat that our body needs but cannot produce on its own, so we must get it from the foods we eat. EFAs are found in various food sources such as flaxseed, hemp oil, soybean oil, canola oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, leafy vegetables, walnuts, sesame seeds, avocados, and certain types of fish, like salmon and tuna. These EFAs are important for making healthy fats in our body, regulating cholesterol levels, and serving as building blocks for certain essential substances.¹ 

When we consume linoleic acid, it can be used in different ways by our bodies. First, it can be used as a source of energy, just like other types of fats. It can also be transformed into different types of lipids which are important components of our cells.²

Linoleic acid also plays a role in maintaining the structure of our skin's outer layer, called the epidermis. It helps keep the skin's water barrier intact and maintains the right level of fluidity in the cell membranes.³

When we consume linoleic acid, it enters our bloodstream and is delivered to different tissues in our body, where it contributes to the structure of cells and gets converted into other beneficial compounds.⁴

How does linoleic acid strengthen your skincare routine?

Including linoleic acid in your routine may strengthen its effectiveness and provide protection against free radical damage to the skin while providing building blocks to damaged skin.

Linoleic acid protects skin from free radical damage

Linoleic acid is important for our skin health. When the body doesn’t have enough important fatty acids, it can cause the skin to become dry and scaly, which is why linoleic acid is especially important for the cells in the skin that produce oil. 

Studies have shown that fatty acids play a crucial role in the biology of the sebaceous glands, which are responsible for producing an oily substance called sebum, a major factor involved in the pathophysiology of acne.⁵

Not only does evidence suggest that a deficiency in linoleic acid may be linked to acne in certain individuals, but it has been found to be an essential component of skin ceramides, which are important for maintaining the skin's structure.⁶

When vegetable oils are used in cosmetics, they mainly work to make the skin softer and more hydrated. This is because these oils contain unsaturated fatty acids, along with other substances like ceramides and cholesterol, which play a role in forming a protective layer for the skin. This layer acts as a barrier, preventing water from escaping too much through the skin. As a result, it helps maintain a good level of hydration in the outermost layer of the skin and protects it from external factors that could harm it. 

A deficiency of essential fatty acids can also lead to skin scaliness and increased water consumption because the skin's ability to hold onto water is disrupted, and more water is lost through the skin.⁷

The lipids of our skin contribute to its normal functions, such as acting as a barrier and helping keep our skin healthy. Further, linoleic acid also reduces UV-associated damage and hyperpigmentation of the skin.⁸

Linoleic acid provides building blocks to damaged skin

When your skin doesn't have enough linoleic acid and other important lipids, it can become weaker and more prone to problems like inflammation, signs of aging, and sometimes even infections. 

To help your skin recover, using plant oils on your skin can provide the necessary linoleic acid and other lipids it needs to repair itself.⁹ Plant oils high in Omega 6 linoleic acid help to normalize skin metabolism and improve hydration.¹⁰ Sunflower, soybean and wheat germ oils all have high concentrations of linoleic acid and can assist with the rebuilding of the lipid barrier of the skin.¹¹ 

The benefits of linoleic acid for acne-prone skin 

In 1976, researchers found evidence linking linoleic acid and acne. They discovered that people with acne had lower levels of linoleic acid in the oils on their skin compared to those without acne. Further studies suggested that this was due to higher rates of sebum production, which is a common characteristic of acne.¹² When there is not enough linoleic acid, it can interfere with the protective barrier in hair follicles, allowing other fatty substances and bacteria to enter—which can lead to clogged pores and inflammation.¹³

Luckily, supplementing linoleic acid by using linoleic acid-rich skincare products may improve the function of the sebaceous glands, unblocking pores and reducing the appearance of acne. Using linoleic acid on oily and problematic skin can help improve the functioning of the sebaceous glands and unclog pores. This, in turn, reduces the number of comedones (clogged pores) and helps improve the condition of the skin.¹⁴

Topical application of plant oils containing linoleic acid has been shown to have dermatological benefits. These oils help maintain the balance of the skin's protective barrier, have antioxidant properties, reduce inflammation, act against harmful microorganisms, and aid in wound healing.¹⁵

The benefits of linoleic acid for skin hydration

The lipids or fats in our skin tissue help protect against moisture loss. Lipids hold moisture in, helping to keep skin soft and smooth and prevent excessive moisture from evaporating.¹⁶

Linoleic acid plays a crucial role in promoting the proper functioning of various tissues within the human body. Specifically, it is of significant importance for maintaining the optimal condition of the skin. Whether it’s applied topically or consumed orally, linoleic acid can have multiple benefits.

As a vital component of the ceramides, one of the building blocks of the skin, linoleic acid helps prevent skin peeling and water loss from the outermost layer of the skin. Further, it enhances the softness and elasticity of the skin while regulating the process of keratinization.¹⁷

Insufficient levels of linoleic acid lead to its substitution by other non-essential fatty acids like oleic acid. This substitution results in a decline in the protective properties of the skin and its barrier function. When coupled with a diet lacking in essential nutrients and rich in saturated fatty acids, as well as physiological aging, this deficiency becomes even more pronounced.¹⁸

You can add linoleic acid to your skin with the help of a vegetable oil. Things to consider when choosing the right vegetable oil to include with linoleic acid:

  • the quality and stability of the source oil

  • the formulation of the linoleic acid and what ingredients it is combined with

  • the primary outcome you desire (e.g. acne treatment or moisturizing) which may affect the formulation you choose

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Treat your skin to a personalized routine

While more research is needed, incorporating linoleic acid-rich foods or skincare products into a daily routine may have positive effects on skin's health and appearance.

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FAQs

Is linoleic acid good for your skin?

Yes. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that is important for many functions in the body like serving as building blocks for important substances, protecting the skin from free radical damage, hydrating the skin, and potentially helping protect the skin against acne.

Is linoleic acid safe for sensitive skin?

Linoleic acid is generally considered safe to use on sensitive skin.

Does linoleic acid clog pores?

Linoleic acid is generally not known to clog pores. In fact, supplementing LA using LA-rich skincare products may improve the function of the sebaceous glands, unblocking pores and reducing the appearance of acne. Using linoleic acid on oily and problematic skin may help improve the functioning of the sebaceous glands and unclog pores. This, in turn, may reduce the number of comedones (clogged pores) and help improve the condition of the skin.¹⁹

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to:

  1. Schagen S.K., et al. Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato Endocrinology. (2021, July 1). 

  2. Whelan, J. Linoleic Acid. Advances In Nutrition. (May 2013). 

  3. Whelan, J. Linoleic Acid. Advances In Nutrition. Ibid.

  4. Whelan, J. Linoleic Acid. Advances In Nutrition. Ibid.

  5. Pappos, A. Epidermal surface lipids. Dermato Endocrinology. (March-April, 2009). 

  6. Pappos, A. Epidermal surface lipids. Dermato Endocrinology. Ibid.

  7. Moore, E.M., et al. The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care. Frontiers. (2020, May 29). 

  8. Moore, E.M., et al. The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care. Frontiers. (2020, May 29). Ibid.

  9. Moore, E.M., et al. The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care. Frontiers. (2020, May 29). Ibid.

  10. Schäfer, N., et al. Possibilities of using vegetable oils in acne skin care. Aesth Cosmetol Med. (2022).

  11. Schäfer, N., et al. Possibilities of using vegetable oils in acne skin care. Aesth Cosmetol Med. Ibid

  12. Downing, D.T., et al. Essential fatty acids and acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (February 1986).

  13. Qidwai, A., et al. The emerging principles for acne biogenesis. The Human Microbiome Journal. Ibid. 

  14. Schäfer, N., et al. Possibilities of using vegetable oils in acne skin care. Aesth Cosmetol Med. Ibid.

  15. Lin, T., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (2018). 

  16. Blaak, J and Stab, P. An updated review on efficacy and benefits of sweet almond evening primrose and jojoba oils in skin care applications. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (2021, December 25). 

  17. Blaak, J and Stab, P. An updated review on efficacy and benefits of sweet almond evening primrose and jojoba oils in skin care applications. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  18. Blaak, J and Stab, P. An updated review on efficacy and benefits of sweet almond evening primrose and jojoba oils in skin care applications. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  19. Schäfer, N., et al. Possibilities of using vegetable oils in acne skin care. Aesth Cosmetol Med. Ibid

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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