Borage oil is an extract from a Mediterranean wildflower. It reportedly helps reduce inflammation in skin conditions such as eczema. However, there is limited research to support its effectiveness.

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a condition that causes patches of skin to become itchy, dry, and irritated. It occurs due to skin barrier issues that lead to transepidermal water loss, making the skin prone to infection and irritation.

Around 1 in 10 people will have eczema in their lifetime.

Experts suspect that a deficiency in essential fatty acid metabolism plays a role in this skin condition. Specifically, they suggest that an abnormality in an enzyme responsible for converting linoleic acid to gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) may cause the increased inflammation observable in people with eczema.

This article looks at borage oil and its uses in treating eczema. It also explores its effectiveness and other uses.

A pot of essential oil with a borage flower.Share on Pinterest
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The Borage Officinalis plant, more commonly known as the starflower, is a native plant from the Mediterranean region.

This relatively large flower with a bright blue hue has edible flowers and leaves. People have used the plant for medicinal and culinary purposes since ancient times.

People extract borage oil from the plant’s seeds, which they consider a rich source of GLA. Reports suggest it contains at least 23% GLA. Skin care manufacturers often use the oil in moisturizers for its hydrating, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Learn more about anti-inflammatory herbs.

GLA is an important essential fatty acid that plays a role in the skin’s structural integrity and barrier function. A person’s body produces it by converting linoleic acid into GLA, which requires an enzyme called delta-6-desaturase (D6D).

The body then converts GLA to dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid (DGLA), which acts as a precursor to anti-inflammatory compounds such as prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) and D1 (PGD1). These molecules reduce inflammation, regulate water loss, and protect the skin from damage.

However, some subtypes of atopic dermatitis have a deficiency of the D6D enzyme, leading to low GLA and high LA levels. This deficiency can lead to immune function issues and the dominance of inflammatory compounds, leading to the development of atopic dermatitis.

Learn more about eczema.

Taking oral or topical supplements, such as borage oil, can help supply GLA directly to the skin, allowing the body to produce anti-inflammatory compounds and restore the skin’s integrity.

Before applying it to the skin, a person should dilute borage with a carrier oil, typically almond oil, jojoba oil, or olive oil. Some use it with a dressing to help soften and retain moisture in the skin.

If someone experiences an allergic reaction when using borage oil, or it worsens their skin condition, they should stop using it immediately and speak with a medical professional.

Learn more about treating atopic dermatitis.

There is limited evidence supporting the effectiveness of using borage oil in treating AD.

A 2015 mice study suggested that the oral intake of DGLA may prevent the development of AD in mice. Topical application of PGD1 also significantly reduced itching, and higher levels of PGD1 resulted in shorter scratching behavior.

An older study on botanical oils stated that borage oil might replace nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for some people with rheumatoid arthritis and reduce their use of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Applying borage oil in infants and children with seborrheic dermatitis or AD also normalized their skin barrier function, based on a 2018 study.

Health experts generally consider borage oil safe. However, it may still have potential risks.

Borage oil contains low concentrations of unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are toxic to the liver. A person should not use borage oil with other medications that may damage the liver, such as anabolic steroids and phenothiazine.

It may also lower the seizure threshold, so people with epilepsy should speak with a medical professional before using borage oil. Individuals should also not use them with other drugs that reduce the seizure threshold, including tricyclic antidepressants.

GLA and other omega-5 fatty acids may interact with certain medicines, increasing or decreasing their effects.

Additionally, lactating and pregnant people should avoid using borage oil due to its risks.

A 2021 study found that borage oil has cell-killing properties and may prevent tumor cell growth.

Manufacturers also promote borage oil as an effective treatment for different conditions, including:

Learn more about borage oil for rheumatoid arthritis.

A person should consult a doctor before using any medication or supplement for their eczema. If they have concerns about their or their child’s condition, they should consult a doctor. They should also speak with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing discomfort from their eczema and have difficulty performing daily activities, including sleeping.

Seek immediate help if there are signs of eczema with an infection, including:

Here are answers to some common questions relating to borage oil and eczema.

Can a person apply borage oil directly to the skin?

Like most other oils, a person should not apply borage oil “neat” to the skin. People can dilute borage oil with a carrier oil, then apply it to the skin.

If a person experiences a skin reaction, they should stop using the product immediately.

Is borage oil anti-inflammatory?

Yes. Borage oil has anti-inflammatory properties.

It contains gamma-linoleic acid, which the body converts to DGLA, a precursor to anti-inflammatory compounds such as PGE1.

What is the best oil for eczema?

Virgin coconut oil has the most research to support its use in treating eczema. It contains a fatty acid that prevents bacterial colonization, which typically causes secondary infections in people with eczema.

However, it is important to note that eczema is different for everyone, and individuals may need to try multiple products to find what works for them.

Eczema is a long-term condition that typically begins early in life. In some people, the condition resolves on their own. There is no cure for eczema. However, treatments and lifestyle changes can help individuals manage the disease and prevent flare-ups.

Some people explore alternative treatments, such as borage oil and probiotics, as an alternative to prescription medication. People wary about using strong medications for their skin condition may discuss their options with their dermatologists.