Q: What are essential fatty acids?


Just like antioxidants, this might just be one of those things you know are good for you, but not the what, why or how. Let me put that unknowingness to rest!

First off, there is a difference between your run of the mill fatty acids, and essential fatty acids. The essential variety are not produced naturally in our own bodies, yet we have biological processes that require them to function. Not to be confused with the essential of ‘essential oils’, which comes from ‘essence’.

There are two fatty acids that are considered essential; alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, which fit respectively in the omega-3 and omega-6 families. These are the two we’ll be focusing on. In terms of diet, you should already be consuming omega-3 and omega-6 to make up for our natural deficiency, which you can find in fish, nuts, leafy vegetables and several oils to name a few. In saying that, your skin is one of the last parts of your body to receive the benefits, which is why you should be applying them topically.

The non-essential fatty acids you already have in your skin can be found alongside cholesterol and ceramides in epidermal lipids; the skin’s natural fats which act like cement, filling the gaps between skin cells. They perform a barrier function, keeping water and nutrients in, and things like free radicals out. As do a lot of things, fatty acids slow in production as we age, contributing to dry and less elastic skin.

So what can essential fatty acids, or EFAs, do for your skin? For starters, they help in creating a water-resistant barrier which not only protects you from trans-epidermal water loss (the loss of moisture through multiple layers of your skin), but deflects harmful bacteria that can cause skin infections. They are also anti-microbial (killing off bacteria, fungus and viruses) and anti-inflammatory, making products with EFAs particularly pleasant for stressed skin.

EFAs work hard to retain moisture, and can counteract the negative effects of ageing skin by supporting your skin lipids and restoring healthy levels of ceramides (the element responsible for upholding the skin barrier and reducing irritation). They are also a hidden gem for blemish prone skin. Acne, and the overproduction of sebum which often causes it, has been linked to a deficiency in linoleic acid, so using an omega-6 rich cream or oil might help your pores regulate their sebum production.  

No, that’s not it. Over time, regular topical application of essential fatty acids can decrease your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays, and repair and reduce signs of photoaging. They can even offer some protection against the sun, although not enough to warrant abandoning your SPF products! It’s no wonder that consuming EFAs is said to have a positive effect on wound healing.

Where can you find these essentials? They are most commonly delivered to your skin through plant-based oils; such as sunflower, safflower, evening primrose, grape seed, walnut, hemp, soybean, pomegranate, sea buckthorn, sesame seed, raspberry, prickly pear, jojoba and blackcurrant; and other sources like shea butter, corn and soybeans.  

You might remember some of them being mentioned on last week’s blog as the superfoods included in our jam-packed Super Food Facial Oil

The Q+A 5-HTP Face and Neck Cream is rich in sunflower, grape and jojoba oil, making it the perfect choice for all skin types. It’s particularly great for skin that is beginning to show signs of ageing, helping to keep you feeling supple despite slowed fatty acid production.

I hope we’ve all become a little more skin literate, but please let me know if there are any more questions I can answer!

All the best,

Amy @ Team Q+A



Amy Robson


Aspiring author, craft addict, and Q+A's eCommerce Coordinator

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