Our skin’s job is to adapt to environmental changes
and defend us from external stressors and pathogens.
Every time oils are taken away from the skin with
harsh cleansers, surfactants and exfoliants, the skin is
doing its best to kick oil production into overdrive in
an attempt to protect us, stop water loss and rebalance.
Genetically, we may also be predetermined to produce
more oil within the skin, but it’s not necessarily just
about how much oil we are producing, so much as it is
about the ratio of different building materials we are
using to create the finished product we call sebum. After
all, sebum isn’t just oil, but instead a complex, delicate
balance of lipids, fatty acids, wax esters and squalene.
The ratio that these components occur can determine if
we are feeding bacteria and inflammation or inhibiting
it. It has been observed in acne-prone skin that there
can be a lowered level of linoleic acid, 2 which is a type of
omega- 6 essential fatty acid obtained in our diets from
sources like hemp seeds, walnuts and sesame seeds—all
of which are high-fat foods. This low level of linoleic acid
creates an impaired barrier function of the skin, and in
regard to acne, might also be responsible for increased
permeability of the follicle wall to various inflammatory
substances, 3 creating the potential for infection.
WHY ARE FATS ESSENTIAL?
Fatty acids are referred to as “essential” because
our bodies don’t have the ability to create these fatty
acids on their own; it has to come from the diet.
Unfortunately, not everyone’s digestive system or body
necessarily works the same, and some people have an
issue converting the linoleic acid consumed in the diet
into another material called gamma-linoleic-acid (GLA).
GLA can play role in brain, heart and skin health as
well as inflammatory response. You can eat as many
flaxseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds as you want, but if
the body isn’t converting and utilizing these fatty acids,
there will be little to no benefit received. An easy way
to sidestep this is supplementing the diet with either
borage seed oil or evening primrose oil, as these sources
are naturally rich in GLA so the body has no need to
convert the linoleic acid into GLA.
As stated previously, the benefits of fats in the skin
don’t end with acne. These same lipids protect the
skin from weather changes, sun exposure, pollution
and other free-radical sources. With the lipids having
such an important function in our skin’s health, the
primary focus of our skin care should be enhancing
the barrier function of the skin as much as possible
and as early as possible. With a strong barrier, the
skin is less exposed to these harmful factors and thus
resists aging effectively.