Woman with healthy skin after supplementing with fish oil

4 fish oil benefits for skin

Medically reviewed on January 9, 2023 by Morgan Spicer, Medical Communications Manager. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Our bodies need omega-3 fatty acids to support cell formation, energy production, and a variety of other functions in the body [1]. But if you’re looking for supplements that can support your body both inside and out, you may also wonder—what about fish oil benefits for skin?

Current evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil can support skin health and appearance. A 2020 review identified 38 studies that reported the benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in treating skin disorders like psoriasis, ulcers, and dermatitis [2].

But the relationship between essential fatty acids (EFAs, like omega-3s) and skin function is complex. Let’s explore potential fish oil benefits for skin in more depth. We’ll break down the role of EFAs in the body, four potential skin and health benefits of incorporating fish oil into your diet, and some tips for adding more EFAs to your daily intake.

What is fish oil?

When health experts talk about fish oil, they’re generally describing a dietary supplement made from fatty fish like tuna, salmon, herring, and mackerel [3].

But, let’s back up for a moment—why do some people supplement with omega-3 fish oil? To answer this question, we have to talk about polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

PUFAs (like monounsaturated fats) are considered “healthy fats" [4]. They can help lower “bad” cholesterol (also called LDL), supporting heart health and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease [4]. There are two major classes of PUFAs:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Omega-6 fatty acids

Both are essential fatty acids (EFAs), meaning that your body can’t make them on its own—they must be introduced to your system via food, supplements, or prescription medication.

Fish oil supplements are one potential source of omega-3 fatty acids, along with food-based sources like seeds, nuts, oils, and fish [4].

What does fish oil do in the body?

A variety of specific compounds fall into the category of omega-3 fatty acids, but only three are well-studied. They include [1]:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

While the contents of over-the-counter (OTC) fish oil supplements vary, many contain only two of these omega-3 fatty acids—EPA and DHA [1].

No matter where you get your omega-3s (from a fish oil supplement or from the foods you eat), all three of the compounds above are critical for [5]:

  • Cell membrane construction
  • Cell receptor function
  • Energy production

They are also integral in the production of hormones that regulate [5]:

  • Inflammation
  • Blood clotting
  • Relaxation and contraction of arteries

Both major types of EFAs (omega-3s and omega-6s) are critical for eicosanoid production [1]. Eicosanoids are a class of molecule that has a variety of functions in the body, including [1]:

  • Inflammation regulation
  • Platelet aggregation (clotting)
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Signaling roles in the lungs, immune system, endocrine system, and cardiovascular system

Can fish oil help your skin?

In addition to the roles above, EFAs (like those found in fish oil supplements) can support skin health [6]. To understand how they work together, we’ll first need to dive into the science of your skin.

Your body has two main layers of skin [6]:

  • The epidermis – The outermost layer, which mostly serves as a barrier against microbes and toxins that could threaten your body
  • The dermis – The layer below the epidermis, which mostly supports the health of the dermis

In the epidermis, EFAs make up a critical portion of the lipid matrix that protects the skin from damage [6].

In the dermis, EFAs primarily support the production of signaling molecules that both [6]:

  • Mediate inflammation, and
  • Protect collagen from UV damage

EFAs like the omega-3s found in fish oil don’t just help your skin—they’re also critical to your skin’s function and everyday health [6].

4 benefits of fish oil for skin

The sections above describe how EFAs generally function in your skin. But let’s break down some more specific fish oil benefits for skin, taking a closer look at some of the critical roles of omega-3s.

Wound healing support

Numerous studies suggest that PUFAs (including omega fatty acids) play a crucial part in the wound healing process [7].

Medical experts generally divide the skin healing process into three main stages:

  • Inflammatory response
  • Proliferation
  • Maturation

In the inflammatory phase, proinflammatory cytokines signal other molecules to inflame as a protective measure—and PUFAs (like omega-3s) largely regulate the activity of these cytokines. By potentially enhancing the inflammatory response around wounded skin, PUFAs could speed up the rate of healing [7].

In recent years, researchers have attempted to treat wounds in animals (guinea pigs, rats, and mice) with various topical solutions containing fish oil [7]. The results have been positive, with most fish oil-based solutions performing highly compared to controls (which contain other oils that don’t contain PUFAs, like olive oil). But, there isn’t currently an FDA-approved, fish oil-based topical treatment for skin wounds, and experts are still studying the impacts of fish oil (and PUFAs in general) on wound healing.

Skin sensitivity

A variety of trials have shown evidence that supplementation with EFA-rich oils (like flaxseed oil, borage oil, and evening primrose oil) can treat skin sensitivity and irritation more effectively than a placebo [6].

It’s important to note that the oils used in these trials contain a variety of EFAs—for instance, flaxseed oil is rich in ALA (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Still, the EFA treatments show promise for dermatological applications of other EFA-rich oils, like fish oil.

During the experiments, researchers noticed improvements in the following areas:

  • Skin moisture
  • Elasticity
  • Firmness
  • Roughness/scaling
  • Inflammatory response to irritants

All oils (compared to placebo) also decreased trans-epidermal water loss (TWEL), a phenomenon that [6]:

  • Can occur as a result of essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD)
  • Can reduce the effectiveness of the epidermis’s barrier function
  • Produces symptoms like scaly skin and other abnormalities

Promising skin cancer impacts

While studies are still in progress, evidence from early research suggests that regular consumption of DHA and EPA (the two primary omega-3s found in fish oil supplements) can prevent the growth of UV-induced skin cancer cells [2].

In one study, DHA and EPA both [2]:

  • Limited the growth of pre-cancerous cells, and
  • Reduced the viability of pre-cancerous cells

This study also noted two important considerations for precancerous cell treatment with fish oil:

  • It’s still unclear whether fish oil or isolated forms of DHA and EPA are more effective in preventing pre-cancerous cell growth.
  • Even if DHA and EPA are effective preventative measures against skin cancer cell growth, they should be combined with other preventive measures for maximum impact (e.g., wearing sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure).

Photoprotection and photoaging prevention

Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of both ingested and topical omega-3 fatty acids in preventing sun damage.6 The results are promising and demonstrate how EFAs could play a role in both sun damage prevention and UV-related anti-aging [6]:

  • A sunburn (caused by exposure to UV radiation) damages skin cells and suppresses the immune system in the skin [6].
  • Since EFAs can modulate inflammation in the dermis, researchers experimented with the impacts of EFA supplementation (with fish oil specifically) on sun damage prevention [6].
  • Numerous placebo-controlled studies indicate that fish oil supplementation can increase the MED (or Minimal Erythemal Dose) in humans [6]. The MED is the lowest dose of radiation a human can sustain before they develop a sunburn. The higher your MED, the more sun exposure it will take for you to get burnt.

Early studies are also pointing toward the role of fish oil and EFAs in preventing photoaging—the process of skin aging through sun exposure [6]. Evidence from cross-sectional studies has connected increased dietary consumption of PUFAs with less skin wrinkling in areas exposed to frequent sunlight (like the backs of participants’ hands). And, an understanding of EFAs’ role in collagen protection leads experts to believe that this process could prevent skin thinning and drying—two critical components of skin aging.

Tips for adding fish oil to your diet

ll of the above said, you might be interested in adding fish oil (and other EFAs) to your diet to support your skin health. To help you do just that, we’re breaking down two tips for success.

Consider adding a variety of fatty acids

One 2020 study suggests that protecting skin health isn’t just about omega-3s (two of which are commonly found in fish oil supplements) [8]. Instead, the authors of this study suggest that three critical nutrients offer the best results for skin protection in combination. Those nutrients include:

  • Omega-3s
  • Omega-6s
  • Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA)

While this is one of only a few studies researching the impacts of more than three EFAs combined, their message is a sensible one—there’s no one “magic pill” that will make your skin glow, prevent cancer, or keep you looking young. Instead of focusing on only one or two nutrients, we should try to maintain healthy levels of a variety of vitamins and nutrients.

Fatty acid-rich foods

If you’re focused on your omega-3 intake, remember that (for most people) it’s usually easiest to get the nutrients you need by eating a balanced diet featuring a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients [9].

While a fish oil supplement can help you increase your intake of DHA and EPA (two omega-3s), remember that ALA is also critical to a healthy balance of omega-3s. Most foods high in ALA aren’t high in EPA or DHA—just one example of why variety is key.

Foods high in ALA are [1]:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil

Foods that offer high quantities of DHA and EPA include [1]:

  • Salmon
  • Oysters
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna
  • Scallops

Find support for skin health with help from Everlywell

As we’ve outlined, omega-3s and fish oil show promise in their potential benefits for healthy skin.

Evidence-backed, nourishing supplements such as these can be a vital way to support your health and well-being. In tandem, you can support your body by learning more about what it needs to thrive. Everlywell now offers omega-3 fish oil supplements so you can easily and effectively support your health with this key nutrient. You can also browse the full range of vitamins and supplements offered by Everlywell.

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  1. Omega-3 fatty acids. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. URL. Published July 18, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.
  2. Thomsen BJ, Chow EY, Sapijaszko MJ. The potential uses of omega-3 fatty acids in dermatology: A Review. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2020;24(5):481-494. doi:10.1177/1203475420929925
  3. Shane-McWhorter L. Fish oil. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. URL. Published November 19, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.
  4. Facts about polyunsaturated fats. MedlinePlus. URL. Published June 22, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids: An essential contribution. The Nutrition Source. URL. Published May 22, 2019. Accessed December 12, 2022.
  6. Essential fatty acids and skin health. Linus Pauling Institute. URL. Published January 3, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.
  7. Huang T-H, Wang P-W, Yang S-C, Chou W-L, Fang J-Y. Cosmetic and therapeutic applications of fish oil’s fatty acids on the skin. Marine Drugs. 2018;16(8):256. doi:10.3390/md16080256
  8. Balić A, Vlašić D, Žužul K, Marinović B, Bukvić Mokos Z. Omega-3 versus omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2020;21(3):741. doi:10.3390/ijms21030741
  9. Do you need dietary supplements? National Institutes of Health. URL. Published July 15, 2022. Accessed December 12, 2022.
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