Fat might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of wellness, but it’s actually a critical component of your health, and your skin’s too. There’s even an entire layer of skin devoted to it—the lipid layer—made up of fat molecules, including what are known as fatty acids. Here’s what makes them so important for your skin, plus how to maintain their optimal levels.
What Are Omega Fatty Acids?
Omega fatty acids are multitasking compounds that do everything from build cell membranes to store energy, and there’s increasing evidence that they support mental and cardiovascular health as well. Some fatty acids, omega-9, are produced by the body naturally. Others, omega-3 and -6, need to be obtained through external sources like diet or topical application. This has earned them the label essential fatty acids—but the reality is that all omegas are essential.
What Do Omega Fatty Acids Do for Skin?
“Fatty acids are the building blocks of skin,” says Dendy Engelman, MD, director of dermatology at the Shafer Clinic in NYC. “They hydrate, strengthen, and build up the skin’s natural barrier, keeping it functioning well and looking younger and healthier.” An easy way to understand their role? Imagine your skin is a brick wall. Fatty acids are mixed into the mortar that seals everything together, keeping moisture in and irritants out. If you don’t have enough of them, the wall weakens and cracks, resulting in dryness and irritation.
When it comes to dryness specifically, omega-9 tends to be especially potent since it has a thicker and more occlusive consistency, “improving skin’s texture and tone,” says Engelman. But omegas are more than moisturizing. Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids produce eicosanoids, “a chemical that helps reduce inflammation,” says Engelman. If you’re unfamiliar, inflammation is the root of pretty much all skin issues—from breakouts to wrinkles. Research indicates that omega-6 may mitigate acne while omega-3 may boost skin’s resistance to UV damage.
How to Use Omega Fatty Acids
Eating a diet that’s rich in omegas can go a long way toward supporting supple, soft, and smooth skin from the inside-out, says Engelman. But applying them topically through skincare may be the most efficient route—especially when it comes to bodycare. “Due to their moisturizing, repairing, and skin-strengthening properties, omega fatty acids can really be helpful in areas where skin bends or stretches a lot, and therefore tends to sustain more damage,” says Engelman. “Applying to dry areas that are prone to flaking and cracking—like elbows, knees, and hands—helps repair the skin and leave it more smooth and hydrated.”
To get the maximum care from your moisturizer, choose one that’s rich in all three omegas. Quinoa oil—the key ingredient in Nativa Spa products—contains the whole spectrum. It boasts 30x more omegas than coconut oil, 4x more than avocado oil, and 2x more than almond oil, making it a superior source of skin nutrition.