Are You Feeding Your Skin? Part 2: Fatty Acids and Essential Fatty Acids

Feeding our skin on the outside is as important as feeding our bodies on the inside and both can affect the overall health of our skin.

Skin health and achieving healthy skin can mean different things for different people. We are all unique and our skin type will vary from one person to another.

However, the basic structure of our different skin types remains the same and we all need to feed our skin essential nutrients to achieve balance and skin harmony.

In this three part mini skin health series, written for Baldwins by Aromatherapist, Jo Manchester, she talks about the essential nutrients that will help to keep your skin healthy and protected.

In part 1, she talked about how antioxidants offer protection from cell damage and the premature ageing effects of free radicals. We can get antioxidants both from a healthy balanced diet as well as from a targeted skin care routine.

If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

In part 2, she talks about how we can replenish our skins fatty acids levels in a similar way...

Part 2: Fatty acids and the natural moisturising factor

Fatty acids and essential fatty acids are important for the health of our skin and play an important role in maintaining the skins natural moisturising factor and barrier function.

The skin's own sebum contains a complex blend of nutrients that includes fatty acids, cholesterol and saturated fats. This is the natural moisturising factor.

The amount of oil that our skin naturally produces goes some way towards dictating our skin type.

Oily skin often produces more sebum than it really needs and dry skin not enough.

The way that we treat our skin will also contribute to how our skin behaves. Stripping oily skin for instance with harsh astringent products can be counter productive and is likely to encourage more sebum production. Equally, not feeding dry skin with fatty acid rich oils can result in an impaired barrier function that leads to dry, irritated and often inflamed skin.

Including fatty acids in your diet and skin care routine can help to balance your skin by equipping it with the essential tools it needs to maintain a healthy environment. The barrier function is like a brick wall held together by oily cement. The oily cement (natural moisturising factor) helps to keep moisture in and irritants out and when balanced and functioning well, will provide us with smooth supple skin that feels comfortable and healthy.

What are essential fatty acids?

Fatty acids refer to the unsaturated omega fats found in both plant based food/oils and animal fats; Polyunsaturated omega 3 and 6 and monounsaturated omega 9 fatty acids.

The term essential fatty acids refers to the unsaturated omega fats that cannot be made by our bodies and it is therefore essential that we include them in our diet and beneficial to include them in our skin care routine. This includes omega 3 and 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids

Why does our skin need essential fatty acids?

Essential fatty acids are a powerhouse of goodness that are beneficial to both our body and skin. They are highly nourishing and packed with vitamins that feed the cells and contribute to healthy cell renewal.

As we age, our skin renewal slows down and the natural moisturising factor becomes less efficient. This can result in moisture loss, a sallow complexion and an impaired skin barrier function that allows irritants in and can contribute to inflammation and premature skin ageing.

Because of the nature of a westernised diet, essential fatty acids are often not consumed in big enough quantities and this can contribute to an imbalance.

To maintain a healthy body and healthy skin, we need to incorporate healthy fats into our diet that include all of the omega groups.

How can essential fatty acids balance different skin types?

Oily Skin

The skin's natural moisturising factor is made up of a complex blend that includes fatty acids from all of the omega groups. If you regularly suffer with oily, problem and blemish prone skin, you may be lacking in essential fatty acids and instead have an overproduction of other fatty acids.

The body is very efficient at processing oleic acid which is an omega 9 monounsaturated fatty acid and will often have an abundance of it. We can get it from most types of diet including those high in processed foods. If your diet mostly consists of processed foods and refined sugars, you are more likely to have high levels of oleic acid and saturated fats in your skins sebum and be lacking in essential fatty acids.

Oleic acid is much thicker and denser than polyunsaturated fatty acids like linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid and can contribute to sebum blockages that result in blemish prone skin.

Stripping oily skin with harsh drying products and not replenishing with the right kind of fats can promote an overproduction of the thicker fatty acids further exacerbating blemishes and inflammation.

There are many oils that actually mimic the skins natural sebum and can help to regulate excess oil production. Regular use of oils like jojoba can trick the skin into thinking it has produced enough sebum and therefore begin to produce less.

Dry Skin

Oleic acid is not a bad fatty acid when present in the right quantity for your skin type, and if you have dry skin it is an excellent one to include in your skin care routine.

Dry skin can also be more prone to premature ageing and benefits just as much from the nourishment that essential fatty acids can provide as oily skin.

The oily cement that we mentioned earlier on needs to be replenished more with dry skin as it will often not be producing enough natural lubrication. This will not only help to smooth any rough dry patches, it will also trap in moisture and help to prevent moisture loss.

Using topical products that contain the right fatty acids for your skin type can help to keep your skin nourished and healthy.

How to include oils in your skin care routine

Contrary to what has often been popular belief, using oil directly on your skin does not leave your skin feeling oily.

It’s important to point out that not all oils are equal and a carefully formulated and targeted facial oil should sink effortlessly into your skin leaving it feeling soft, supple and hydrated. This can often provide an excellent smooth base to apply make-up and may even help to hold onto your makeup longer.

Oils themselves do not provide hydration, this comes from a water based serum or moisturiser.

However, what a facial oil will do is trap critical moisture within the upper layers of your skin where it is most needed but often lacking.

Oily skin will benefit from a regular facial massage with a dry oil formulation that includes lots of fruit oils alongside jojoba and evening primrose. Just a few drops massaged into clean skin as a part of your evening routine will be enough to replenish any missing essential nutrients.

When treating oily skin, you may find it better to alternate your facial oil morning and evening with a water based serum or moisturiser. This will ensure that your skin is receiving a broad spectrum of vitamins and hydration.

Dry skin will often benefit from slightly fattier oils like macadamia and rice bran oil alongside nutrient rich fruit oils. A regular facial massage will nourish and replenish the natural moisturising factor and help to slough off dead skin cells leaving your skin with a healthy glow.

A facial oil can also be applied over the top of a water based serum or moisturiser to further increase hydration and trap in critical moisture.


In part 3, Jo will be talking about high performing oils and active ingredients and how they can be healing and rejuvenating for tired, damaged and problem skin.