Fish oil comes from fish that are rich in omega-3, such as mackerel and herring. Some studies suggest that fish oil may benefit people with certain skin conditions, though not all researchers agree.
Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), which is a type of nutrient that the body cannot make for itself.
In this article, we look at fish oil for the skin, including its potential benefits, what the research says, and which skin conditions it may help. We also discuss how to use fish oil to get the maximum benefit.
A 2018 review in Marine Drugs notes that fish oil and its components, including omega-3, can help support the skin’s overall health. The review found evidence that fish oil can help by:
- maintaining homeostasis
- improving barrier function
- inhibiting inflammation, particularly from UV light
- promoting skin healing
Scientists believe that these benefits are due to the PUFAs in fish oil, which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The body incorporates dietary fatty acids into cell membranes. When a cell membrane is healthy, the cell can hold water. In the skin, this results in cells being hydrated and soft. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce the production of inflammatory compounds that contribute to the aging process.
Some fish oils contain other nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and selenium. Vitamin A is an antioxidant related to retinol, a popular ingredient in skin care products and a treatment for skin disorders.
However, while evidence supports the idea that fish oil boosts general skin health, the research on its benefits for specific skin conditions is more mixed.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common inflammatory condition of the skin. It causes itching and scaling, and the skin can sometimes crack and bleed.
A 2013 research article notes that both EPA and DHA can inhibit inflammation, which may benefit the skin. Other studies on animals also show that fish oil may lessen eczema symptoms. For example, a 2015 study on rats found that supplementation reduced itch-related scratching and dryness.
However, these findings do not necessarily prove that fish oil is an effective remedy for eczema in humans. A 2016 review notes that there is only limited evidence to support this benefit.
Scientists need to carry out more studies involving a larger number of people to understand the value of using fish oil to alleviate eczema.
Acne causes pimples and cysts, which can be inflamed and painful. For this reason, the omega-3 content in fish oil may be helpful for reducing general inflammation in the body. However, studies that focus on fish oil’s benefits for acne specifically have mixed results.
A small randomized, double-blind, and controlled trial found that omega-3 supplementation decreased acne lesions significantly over the course of 10 weeks.
In contrast, an investigation in Lipids in Health and Disease had mixed results. Although most of the study participants showed an improvement in their acne, others experienced worsening symptoms.
Fish oil may help reduce acne in some individuals, but there is currently no strong evidence that it will help everyone.
Hyperpigmentation describes darker patches of skin that occur as a result of increased melanin production. There are many causes of hyperpigmentation, including:
- hormonal changes
- UV exposure
- skin trauma
- medications that cause sunlight sensitivity
Fish oil could potentially help reduce hyperpigmentation in several ways. Omega-3 may minimize wound infections and speed up healing, which is useful in cases of hyperpigmentation that are due to skin trauma.
DHA can also inhibit melanin production, which may reduce the risk of UV-induced hyperpigmentation.
Notably, a person with a fish or shellfish allergy who reacts to fish oil may develop eczema. Someone who already has eczema may find that their symptoms worsen.
If an individual has symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to fish oil, such as difficulty breathing, they should seek immediate medical attention.
People use fish oil in a variety of ways, but the easiest option is generally to take a fish oil supplement.
Fish oil has a strong taste and pungent odor, so using it topically is not always suitable. Capsules help make fish oil easier to take.
There is no set dosage recommendation for fish oil. However, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for EPA and DHA specifically is about 250 milligrams (mg).
The amount of EPA and DHA in fish oils varies widely, but in 1,000 mg of fish oil, people typically get 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA.
According to a 2019 review, it is best to take a fish oil supplement with a meal that contains some dietary fat, as this optimizes the bioavailability of the omega-3 fatty acids.
As with any nutritional supplement, it is a good idea to check with a healthcare provider before beginning to take it.
Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some research suggests that these fatty acids can improve skin health, as well as specific skin conditions, such as eczema and acne.
However, scientists need to perform more research to understand exactly how effective fish oil is for treating skin conditions, as some studies have had mixed results.
It is not entirely clear whether taking a fish oil supplement will be beneficial for everyone. However, some people may notice an improvement in skin hydration and overall skin health, which may alleviate certain skin conditions.