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What can evening primrose oil do for the skin?

It’s full of omega-6 fatty acids, but for some, the potential cons may outweigh the pros.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 5 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 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.

With a name like “evening primrose,” it’s no surprise this flower (and the oil extracted from it) has a place in the beauty world. But what does evening primrose oil do for the skin? Here we’ll explore how it’s made, its uses in skin care, and what we currently know about its potential benefits.  

What is evening primrose oil?

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of the evening primrose flower, Oenothera biennis. It’s a rich source of omega-6 essential fatty acids, most notably linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, making it a common skincare ingredient.  

When it comes to skin, the gamma-linolenic acid in evening primrose oil may help reduce the inflammatory symptoms of acne and eczema. Gamma-linolenic acid targets inflammation and may help improve skin function. It’s an essential fatty acid, which means we need to get it from our diet.

field full of yellow flowers

Potential benefits of evening primrose oil for the skin

Evening primrose oil is generally safe for daily use, but when it comes to its ability to soften and rebuild the skin, the truth is that more research is needed. Here’s what we do know about evening primrose oil’s potential benefits so far: 

  • It has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s proven that the linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid present in evening primrose oil have anti-inflammatory properties and other benefits for the skin, whether evening primrose oil is taken orally or applied topically. There’s some evidence to suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of evening primrose oil may also reduce redness.

  • It may help support the skin barrier. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, evening primrose oil applied topically reduced transepidermal water loss and improved skin moisture, elasticity, firmness, and roughness. The study attributed the effects to (you guessed it!) gamma-linolenic acid. 

  • It may help moisturize and soften the skin. Evening primrose oil is a natural source of ceramides. A 2018 Korean study found that a cream using ceramides extracted from evening primrose oil improved skin hydration and reduced transepidermal water loss.  

What about evening primrose oil for acne?

Studies show gamma-linolenic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, and evening primrose oil contains 8-10% gamma-linolenic acid. Any decrease in inflammation would, in theory, conceivably help treat acne, but more research is needed to better support this theory.

Here’s what we tell our patients: Currently, there’s insufficient scientific evidence to suggest evening primrose oil is effective for treating and reducing breakouts. If you want to try oral evening primrose oil, we recommend consulting with your medical provider to be sure it won’t conflict with any medications you’re currently taking.

Does evening primrose oil work for eczema?

Some studies suggest oral consumption of evening primrose oil helps improve mild atopic dermatitis (eczema)., One of those studies reported that an increase in gamma-linolenic acid levels in the body was shown to improve clinical symptoms of mild eczema after 12 weeks. But as far as the National Eczema Association is concerned, the jury’s still out.

How to use evening primrose oil for the skin

If you decide to give topical evening primrose oil a try for its anti-inflammatory benefits, apply it after washing your skin with a gentle cleanser and allow it to sink in before applying a separate moisturizer. Evening primrose oil has a very thick consistency, and it may not be entirely non-comedogenic, meaning it could potentially clog your pores, depending on the product’s ingredients. So it may not be well-suited for those with acne-prone skin. 

Evening primrose oil potential side effects

Whether applied topically or taken as an oral supplement, evening primrose oil is generally considered safe. But that doesn’t mean side effects aren’t possible:

  • Oral use of evening primrose oil may cause nausea, headaches, and diarrhea. It may also cause bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. It has also been thought that it may induce labor, but this has not been explicitly proven. If you’re pregnant, it’s important to talk with your OBGYN before adding this supplement to your diet.  

  • Topical use may cause allergic reactions. Symptoms may include inflammation, redness, and a rash. More serious symptoms may include difficulty breathing. If you experience any serious symptoms due to evening primrose oil, stop using it immediately and contact your medical provider. 

Curology uses clinically researched ingredients

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When it comes to skincare concerns like acne, signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea, Curology uses clinically researched ingredients, such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, and niacinamide. Curology was founded by board-certified dermatologists to help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. 

Getting started is easy. Simply snap a few selfies and answer a few questions to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers, who will prescribe a personalized formula designed for your unique skin. They’ll also be there to answer any skincare questions you may have. Here at Curology, we believe skincare is a journey, and we’re here to help guide you every step of the way.

FAQs

What is evening primrose oil?

Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds of the evening primrose flower, Oenothera biennis. It’s a rich source of omega-6 essential fatty acids, most notably linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, making it a common skincare ingredient.  

What are some potential benefits of using evening primrose?

Here’s what we do know about evening primrose oil’s potential benefits so far: 

  • It has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s proven that the linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid present in evening primrose oil have anti-inflammatory properties and other benefits for the skin.

  • It may help support the skin barrier. Evening primrose oil applied topically reduced transepidermal water loss and improved skin moisture, elasticity, firmness, and roughness.

  • It may help moisturize and soften the skin. Evening primrose oil is a natural source of ceramides.

What about evening primrose oil for acne?

Studies show gamma-linolenic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, and evening primrose oil contains 8-10% gamma-linolenic acid. Any decrease in inflammation would, in theory, conceivably help treat acne, but more research is needed to better support this theory.

Does evening primrose oil work for eczema?

Some studies suggest oral consumption of evening primrose oil helps improve mild atopic dermatitis (eczema). One of those studies reported that an increase in gamma-linolenic acid levels in the body was shown to improve clinical symptoms of mild eczema after 12 weeks. But as far as the National Eczema Association is concerned, the jury’s still out.

• • •

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

  1. Bayles, B. and Usatine, R. Evening primrose oil. American Family Physician. (2009).

  2. Jung, J.Y., et al. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: A randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. (2014).

  3. Kawamura A, et al. Dietary supplementation of gamma-linolenic acid improves skin parameters in subjects with dry skin and mild atopic dermatitis. J Oleo Sci. (2011).

  4. Horrobin DF. Nutritional and medical importance of gamma-linolenic acid. Prog Lipid Res. (1992).

  5. Timoszuk, M., et al. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) biological activity dependent on chemical composition. Antioxidants. (August 2018).

  6. Muggli, R. Systemic evening primrose oil improves the biophysical skin parameters of healthy adults. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  7. Park, S.H., et al. Effect of moisturizing cream containing ceramide from evening primrose oil on the moisturization and transepidermal water loss in human skin. Journal of Oil and Applied Science. (2018).

  8. Timoszuk, M., et al. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) biological activity dependent on chemical composition. Antioxidants. Ibid.

  9. Chung, B.Y., et al. Effect of evening primrose oil on Korean patients with mild atopic dermatitis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Annals of Dermatology. (August 2018).

  10. Simon, D., et al. Gamma-linolenic acid levels correlate with clinical efficacy of evening primrose oil in patients with atopic dermatitis. Advances in Therapy. (2014).

  11. Simon, D., et al. Gamma-linolenic acid levels correlate with clinical efficacy of evening primrose oil in patients with atopic dermatitis. Advances in Therapy. Ibid.

  12. Gallagher, M. Get the Facts: Evening Primrose Oil. National Eczema Association. (2022 July 1).

  13. Mohboubi, M. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil in management of female ailments. Journal of Menopausal Medicine. (August 2019).

  14. Kalati, M., et al. Evening primrose oil and labor, is it effective? A randomized clinical trial.Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (May 2018).

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.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
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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