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Omega-3 for acne: Does it really help?

Their potential anti-inflammatory properties may help your acne. Here’s how.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
capsules oil beauty concepts
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 5 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
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.

Are you struggling with persistent acne? With so many different treatments, products, and methods on the market, it’s hard to know what might work and what might not. If you’re on the hunt for an acne solution, our experts have been hard at work confirming (and debunking!) many of the treatments touted online. Here we’ll tackle the efficacy of omega-3 for acne. 

What is omega-3?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to several processes within the body.¹ Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties,² but what, exactly, is inflammation? This term is used frequently in health and wellness communities, but rarely do you find context on what it is, how it’s caused, and how to treat it.

Inflammation is defined by the National Library of Medicine as the process by which the immune system recognizes and removes harmful and foreign stimuli and begins the healing process.³ Inflammation is part of the body’s defense mechanism and can be either acute or chronic.⁴ Because acne is an inflammatory skin condition, it may be helped by the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids. 

There are several different types of omega-3 that are clinically relevant: 

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) 

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 

  • A-linolenic acid (ALA)

Oils containing these fatty acids originate in plant and animal sources and can be found in fish, seeds, nuts, leafy greens, and beans. You’ll find EPA and DHA in fish and fish oil and ALA in some nuts and seeds. Omega-3s may be useful in treating many different conditions, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, asthma, epilepsy, and more.⁵

Omega-3 fatty acids and your skin

Omega-3 fatty acids may help support the overall health of your skin. Research shows that these acids play a role in inflammation, homeostasis, skin barrier function, and more. A study of fish oil found the following potential omega-3 benefits: 

  • Maintaining skin homeostasis: Omega-3 fatty acids may help maintain skin homeostasis,⁶ which is the renewal process of cells in the body.

  • Improving skin barrier function: Omega-3 fatty acids may aid in the functioning of the outermost layer of the skin (called the skin barrier).⁷ This may help protect the sensitive inner layers of your skin. 

  • Reducing inflammation: Studies show that EPA and DHA fatty acids may inhibit several aspects of inflammation,⁸ including inflammation caused by UVB rays.⁹ This means that omega-3 fatty acids may help protect your skin from the sun and you know us—we’re all about sun protection. It’s important to note that, because few studies have been conducted, more research is needed on this topic. 

  • Improving hyperpigmentation: DHA may inhibit melanin production, reducing the risk of hyperpigmentation caused by the sun.¹⁰

  • Reducing dry skin and itching: Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce dry skin and itching associated with conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. A study found that when rats consumed omega-3 fatty acid supplements, it reduced their itch-related scratching and dryness.¹¹ Still, more research is needed on this topic before omega-3 fatty acids can be definitively recommended for treating eczema.¹²

  • Accelerating wound healing: Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help prevent wound infections, improve early wound healing, and decrease the deposition of collagen, which could help prevent extensive scarring.¹³

The potential benefits listed above may be achieved via omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, topical application, or injection.¹⁴

Does omega-3 help acne?

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by black and whiteheads and inflammatory lesions such as pimples, papules, and pustules. It affects people of all ages but is most common in adolescents.¹⁵ Many factors impact the development of acne, including genetics, hormones, inflammation, and environmental influences.¹⁶ No matter the cause or kind of acne, inflammation likely occurs at all stages of acne lesion development.¹⁷

While there’s no cure for acne (yet!), some people believe that omega-3 fatty acids may help, and some people who maintain a diet high in omega-3s have shown lower rates of acne.¹⁸ This could be due to the potential anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids.

With all this talk of oil, you may be wondering, “Can fish oil cause acne?” Although it’s possible that fish oil—and the omega-3 fatty acids therein—may contribute to worsening acne in some people as is the case with all good science, more research is needed to get a clear picture. 

Omega-3 fatty acid dietary intake vs. supplements 

It’s hard to be certain, but there is evidence to support the benefits of taking omega-3 supplements for acne. Fish oil supplementation may be associated with an improvement in overall acne severity, especially for people with moderate to severe acne.¹⁹ If you prefer eating your omega-3s in foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, soybeans, walnuts, and chia seeds, it can’t hurt, but very few studies assess the impact of dietary omega-3s on acne.

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Skincare designed just for you 

If you’re searching for a way to combat acne, Curology may be able to help. We’re a full-service skincare company offering products made with proven effective ingredients, including those that treat acne like tretinoin and clindamycin. Curology was founded in 2014 by board-certified dermatologists. We believe everyone’s skin is unique and one of the most effective ways to treat acne is with personalized advice from a professional.

Curology is one of the easiest ways to get a skincare consultation. Our experts will help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by determining the products your skin needs and creating a personalized prescription formula to help you tackle skin concerns such as acne, rosacea, and signs of aging.

Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers.

FAQs

What is omega-3?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to several processes within the body. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, but what, exactly, is inflammation? This term is used frequently in health and wellness communities, but rarely do you find context on what it is, how it’s caused, and how to treat it.

Does omega-3 help acne?

While there’s no cure for acne (yet!), some people believe that omega-3 fatty acids may help, and some people who maintain a diet high in omega-3s have shown lower rates of acne. This could be due to the potential anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids.

With all this talk of oil, you may be wondering, “Can fish oil cause acne?” Although it’s possible that fish oil—and the omega-3 fatty acids therein—may contribute to worsening acne in some people as is the case with all good science, more research is needed to get a clear picture. 

• • •

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

  1. 7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (n.d.)

  2. Krupa K., et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. StatPearls. (2022).

  3. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. What is an inflammation? (23 November 2010).

  4. Pahwa, R., et al. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls. (2022).

  5. Krupa K., et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. StatPearls. Ibid.

  6. Huang, T.H., et al. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil's Fatty Acids on the Skin. Mar Drugs. (2018).

  7. Huang, T.H., et al. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil's Fatty Acids on the Skin. Mar Drugs. Ibid.

  8. Calder, P.C. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology?Br J Clin Pharmacol. (2013).

  9. Puglia, C., et al. In vitro percutaneous absorption studies and in vivo evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of essential fatty acids (EFA) from fish oil extracts. Int J Pharm. (2005).

  10. Huang, T.H., et al. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil's Fatty Acids on the Skin. Mar Drugs. Ibid.

  11. Barcelos,R.C. et al. Oral supplementation with fish oil reduces dryness and pruritus in the acetone-induced dry skin rat model. J Dermatol Sci. (2015).

  12. Schlichte, M.J., et al. Diet and eczema: a review of dietary supplements for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Dermatol Pract Concept. (2016).

  13. Alexander, J.W., Supp, D.M. Role of Arginine and Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Wound Healing and Infection. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle). (2014).

  14. Huang, T.H., et al. Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil's Fatty Acids on the Skin. Mar Drugs. Ibid.

  15. Zaenglein, A., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

  16. Baldwin, H., Tan, J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. Am J Clin Dermatol. (2021).

  17. Tanghetti,E.A. The role of inflammation in the pathology of acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2013).

  18. Logan, A. Dietary fat, fiber, and acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2007).

  19. Khayef G, et al. Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne. Lipids Health Dis. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

• • •
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.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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