Your skin is a metabolically active organ, made up of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides.
Essential Fatty Acids are vital for our skin health, they are the building blocks for our cellular membranes.
These fats influence many of our biological functions, an insufficient intake results in loss of skin elasticity, dryness, poor wound healing and increases our susceptibility to premature ageing.
Metabolism of both linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid is limited in our skin and body, which is why they are considered ESSENTIAL nutrients.
We can’t produce them naturally, the only source we can obtain them from is supplements, food and topical applications.
This is why I find it so hard to comprehend, that were rarely taught the importance of essential fatty acids, especially as so many important biological functions of the body is governed by them.
The role of essential fatty acids on our skin
They play a big role in maintaining the integrity and function of our skin:
They keep arteries healthy
They help to limit potential damage to our arteries, that are caused by bursts of high blood sugar. They also insulate our nerve cells keeping our skin and arteries healthy, dramatically reducing the risk of heart attack.
They balance lipids
They are a vital component for normalizing the lipids (oils) in our skin.
Your top layer of skin is made up of a layer of keratinised cells which are bound by both lipids (oil) and water (bi layers). A skin that lacks lipids appears dull, coarse and inflexible, in severe cases skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis become apparent.
They repair the skins barrier
Superficially fatty acids keep the lipid matrix balanced, this maintains the integrity of the skins barrier.
Essential Fatty Acids are an essential component of your cell walls, they ensure the flexibility of the cells which gives your skin its smoothness, which is why they are so important for skin health.
They give protection from the environment by forming a protective film on the surface, known as your barrier function. This protective coat prevents the skins surface from coming into contacts with allergens, thereby reducing the chance of sensitivity.
Omega-6 and omega-3 play a critical role in normal skin function and appearance
They prevent dehydration
Lipids play a key role in keeping skin hydrated, in formulas their role is to regulate membrane fluidity, binding water to the skins tissues.
Research found when essential fatty acids are applied topically, they are metabolised by the skin.
The resulting free fatty acids incorporated into the lipids make up the protective barrier, whilst also decreasing the evaporation of water from the skin.
They restore the acid mantle
Our acid mantle has a high content of free fatty acids, this mantle prevents penetration of foreign bodies, which brings us back to the importance of external and internal application of EFA’s.
They assist in oxygen transfer
They encourage oxygen to be transported through your body and across your cell membranes, assisting with oxidation of foods for energy.
They support ceramides
They are vital for the proper functioning and formation of Ceramides.
Ceramides represent a major percentage of the lipids found in the outer layer of your skin, they are important for the maintenance of water in the skin, the fatty acid Linoleic Acid, has been found to be linked to the formation of ceramides.
Different fatty acids influence different skin conditions
Penetration of each particular skin care oil, all depends on the size of the fat molecule, or the chain length of the fatty acid.
Short to medium chain fatty acids stimulate cellular metabolism, kick starting the cell into generating energy faster, boosting a sluggish skin. Coconut oil is a good example of a medium chain fatty acid.
Longer chain fatty acids determine how quickly fat penetrates the skin, they impart a rich, luxurious feel and help to alleviate dry skin conditions. Avocado oil is an example of a long chain fatty acid.
The ideal fat profile in our diet
The name Essential Fatty Acids refers to two polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6, both are extremely beneficial to your skin and body.
Unlike thick saturated fats that stick together and cause congestion, these fats are runny and less inclined to stick together, because the molecules repel each other, making it more inclined to retain fluid.
What this means is that when the sebum created by your oil glands is rich in fatty acids, it finds its way easily up through the pores and out onto your skins surface, thus preventing congestion, helping to dissolve existing blockages.
This makes the oil rich in these fatty acids ideal for people suffering from all sorts of conditions, ranging from acne to excessive dryness.
Omega 6 help with the structural integrity and barrier function of the skin
It is vital for the producing ceramide 1 linoleate, the most important ceramide for keeping the top layers of your skin supple, a skin lacking in this results in an impaired barrier and premature ageing.
Omega 3 is great for alleviating dry skin conditions and has powerful anti inflammatory effects.
The Naked Truth
In pursuit of weight loss we are often very selective of the fats we cut out and everything goes, including precious Essential Fatty Acids.
However taken in moderation they do not contribute to weight gain, in fact they actually help to burn off saturated fats, aiding in weight loss and keeping your weight at bay.
This is due to the fact that they produce hormone like substances called prostaglandins, which control our metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat.