Using a good sunscreen, drinking lots of water, and getting enough sleep goes a long way towards promoting healthy skin, but for a complexion that really glows, a healthy dose of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is, well, essential. These good fats are key players in the conversion of food to energy, the transfer of oxygen to cells, and the production of hormone-like prostaglandins, which guard against conditions such as inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. But their primary function is maintaining the liquid barrier surrounding all the cells of the body, including those of the skin. In other words, EFAs filter out waste and deliver nutrients to the cells, keeping the skin healthy and supple.
EFAs, specifically omega-3s, cannot be manufactured in the body, and thus must be consumed through the diet in order to sustain health. The standard American diet — full of vegetable oil and processed foods — contributes to a widespread deficiency of omega-3s, causing a buildup of metabolites in the body. These substances cause inflammation and encourage chronic skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, dryness, and premature aging.
Thankfully research continues to show that supplementing with omega-3s can treat these conditions and promote healthy skin.
How To Get Your EFAs
To get a proper balance of EFAs, replace processed foods with whole foods rich in these nutrients, such as wild cold-water fish (mackerel, cod, herring, salmon, anchovy), nuts, seeds, legumes, dark leafy greens, and freshly ground flaxseed. Or, boost the diet with EFA supplements like fish, borage, evening primrose, and flaxseed oils.
When choosing supplements, look for cold-pressed, organic, and unrefined oils and capsules, often sold in the refrigerated section of your natural products store. To avoid mercury, select fish oil products sourced from wild, not farmed, fish. And only buy EFAs that are packaged in protective opaque containers, and store them in the refrigerator. Discard oils if they start to change color or smell rancid.
Promoting skin health by maintaining the proper balance of EFAs is not difficult. In fact, the optimum daily dose for omega-3s is 2–9 grams, which can take the form of a single tablespoon of flaxseed in your morning oatmeal — an easy fix for a pervasive problem.