“The consequence of not having enough essential fatty acids (EFA) is that skin looks and feels dry. If you want supple skin, that is literally well oiled skin, Omega 3 is irreplaceable.”
Sarah Stacey, co-founder of the Beauty Bible
Our Omega 3 fish oil eczema survival guide
Coconut oil, bee venom, celery juice, apple cider vinegar… barely a week goes by without a headline proclaiming that the latest miracle cure for eczema has been found.
But if your poor, dry skin has suffered with flare-ups for years, you’ll greet any new research with a hefty dose of scepticism. You’ll know only too well how disheartening it is to rush out and buy that latest cream, oil or potion, only to find it does nothing for your own red patches - or worse, it inflames them even more.
While eczema is characterised by the same basic symptoms of dry, cracked and itchy skin, every sufferer is different and what works for one may not work for another. It’s a fact that’s frustrated the medical profession for years. Despite the fact that eczema is now at epidemic levels in the UK, with one in 12 adults diagnosed, the condition continues to outsmart any attempts to find a cure.
But one thing people with eczema do have in common is the mental distress it causes. Even if your symptoms are mild, a flare-up can affect what you wear, how well you sleep and how you live your life. A recent Allergy UK survey of adults with eczema found that 88% say it impacts their daily lives, 58% say it affects personal relationships and 73% claim that their social life suffers.
Getting on top of your own flare-ups and working out your eczema triggers is intensely personal and for many, a case of trial and error. But wouldn’t it be great if there was something simple you could do alongside your treatment? Something that got to the root of the problem and helped soothe your skin from within.
Taking Omega 3 fish oil for eczema can help keep flare-ups at bay. Omega 3 has been proven to help reduce the inflammation in the body that leads to itching, while the essential fatty acid EPA can help ‘waterproof’ skin cells by bolstering the membrane, keeping skin moisturised from the inside out.
In this Omega 3 guide to eczema, we’ll look at all the evidence of a link between eczema and Omega 3, and why you need this dry skin saviour as part of your natural eczema treatment plan.
The Western diet has long been associated with inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. Population-based studies reveal that in societies where people eat a non-Western diet, eczema is much less common.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a complicated skin condition which varies from person to person and comes in many different forms. Symptoms include extreme skin dryness, leading to itching and breaks in the skin. Broken skin is far more likely to develop infection and inflammation. There is currently no cure, but it can be treated with steroid creams. But not only can these become less effective over time, they can also have side effects.
How is eczema treated?
At the heart of most conventional treatment is finding a way to keep skin moisturised. Usual methods include emollient creams and wet bandages, along with more powerful ointments to soothe the itching and inflammation, such as topical steroids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
However the use of steroids is not without its side effects. These can include skin-thinning, discolouration and even brittle bones. Ironically, long term use of steroid creams has also been shown to trigger other skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.
Steroids are powerful prescription drugs and not ideal for long-term use. This leads many people to seek more natural remedies for eczema, sometimes to great effect. Even dermatologists recognise that treating eczema requires a holistic approach that involves topical solutions, managing triggers such as stress and taking a close look at your diet.
Is there a link between diet and eczema?
The Western diet has long been associated with inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. Population-based studies reveal that in societies where people eat a non-Western diet, eczema is much less common. For example, an 2015 study of over 3,000 children from Barranquilla, Colombia, saw that children who ate a natural, local diet were at a reduced risk of eczema.
The Western diet, while being plentiful in inflammation-causing Omega 6s (such as the vegetable oils found in virtually all processed food from crisps to granola) is seriously lacking in longer chain Omega 3 fatty acids that the body can’t make for itself.
Found only in animal sources such as oily fish, the Omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA play a vital role in our skin. They are incorporated into cell membranes in the the top layer of skin (the epidermis), forming a protective web around them, helping to stop moisture being lost, effectively moisturising it from within. But Omega 3 fish oils also work deeper in the dermis (skin’s lower layer) to control inflammation.
Omega 3 is a skin essential and a lack of essential fatty acids has been proven to cause dry skin. And yet not only do we not eat enough of it, too much pro-inflammatory Omega 6 in our diet crowds out what precious little Omega 3 is there in the first place.
Some 150 years ago, the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 in our diets was 1:1 but now it’s closer to 1:15. Numerous studies show that being deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids can lead to a whole host of skin conditions. Eczema is one of them.
Can an Omega 3 fish oil supplement help your eczema?
Taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement could make your skin less prone to eczema. Not only do the essential fatty acids in Omega 3 fish oil benefit skin by soothing your body’s inflammatory response to allergens, they can also tackle the root of the problem by helping to moisturise your skin from within.
The evidence also backs this up. According to research published in the British Journal of Dermatology, eczema patients given high doses of Omega 3 supplements for eight weeks saw an 18 per cent reduction in their symptoms. A 2016 review by The Ohio State University College of Medicine found similarly encouraging results, with eczema patients experiencing improvements to everyday life compared to those taking a placebo.
How does Omega 3 fish oil benefit eczema?
Essential fatty acids play an important role in all the cell membranes throughout the body, but nowhere is their role more visible to the outside world than on your skin. Omega 3 helps skin cells stay fluid and flexible, allowing nutrients to enter and waste to exit. They effectively waterproof the skin, creating an antimicrobial barrier against potential allergens. Without enough Omega 3 your skin can suffer from dryness, which leaves it more prone to nasty allergic responses from seemingly innocuous substances.
But not only does it moisturise and protect skin from within, it also has potent anti inflammatory properties. The essential fatty acid EPA found in fish oil helps to alleviate irritation at a biochemical level, getting right to the the root cause of aggravated skin conditions like eczema. There’s also evidence that fish oil can reduce leukotriene B4, an inflammatory substance that plays a role in eczema.
How does Omega 3 help eczema symptoms?
Omega 3 can soothe the itching
An important part of solving the eczema puzzle is stopping the scratch/itch cycle. But what can you do, apart from wearing gloves in bed? Itchy skin often results from an allergic or autoimmune reaction in which the body mistakes a harmless substance for a toxin, triggering a defensive response. Omega 3 protects against a wide range of autoimmune disorders. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, “trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.”
Omega 3 fights eczema dryness
As anyone with eczema knows only too well, the secret to keeping control of flare-ups is to moisturise. Yet Omega 3 can moisturise your skin from the inside out. High levels of Omega 3 have been shown to work on the phospholipid bilayer, helping it hold onto water, leading to moister, softer skin. Sarah Stacey, co-founder of the Beauty Bible, says, “the consequence of not having enough essential fatty acids (EFA) is that skin looks and feels dry. If you want supple skin, that is literally well oiled skin, Omega 3 is irreplaceable.”
Omega 3 stops eczema inflammation
The Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are well known as potent anti-inflammatories. They do this in two ways. Firstly they block inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins and secondly they are converted by the body into resolvins. They are also known to inhibit the production of leukotriene B4, something that’s implicated in the development of eczema.
So what is the best Omega 3 fish oil supplement for eczema?
The best Omega 3 fish oil supplements for eczema are ones that contain the highest levels of EPA and DHA, because it’s these two essential fatty acids that have been shown to support skin, moisturise it from within and calm inflammation.
According to Jackie McCusker, nutritional therapist at the University of Westminster’s Be Well London clinic, “EPA is critical for the reduction of cellular inflammation, while DHA is needed for the fluidity of the cell membrane. They work together to help every cell function.”
You’ll need a clinical strength fish oil for eczema, as most of the trials conducted that showed improvement had participants taking relatively high doses of between 1,800mg to 3,000mg.
Bare Biology’s Lion Heart liquid has 3,000mg EPA and DHA per teaspoon, so it’s super easy to get the high dose in a single daily dose.
How much Omega 3 fish oil should I take for eczema?
When it comes to daily doses of Omega 3 fish oil for eczema, a teaspoon of a clinical strength fish oil such as Bare Biology’s Lion Heart Omega 3 Liquid is enough. Some people do take more to tackle different skin conditions, but it’s always worth consulting your doctor or dermatologist before you do this.
The Bare Biology clinical strength fish oil has all the essential fatty acids you need to get the full range of Omega 3 benefits for eczema, with 3,500mg of Omega 3 (2,000mg of EPA, 1,000mg of DHA and 500mg of other Omega 3s) in every single teaspoon.
Should I take a fish oil supplement for eczema or just eat more fatty fish?
Eating a fatty fish like salmon three times a week can boost your Omega 3 levels. But if you don’t like the taste, or are worried about contamination found in farmed fish, a good quality fish oil supplement is an easy way to ensure you’re getting enough of this potent skin saviour.
So will it cure your eczema?
While for many, taking Omega 3 benefits eczema dramatically, no two people with the condition are the same. Taking the best supplements for eczema is a great start, but can Omega 3 cure eczema on its own?
Dermatologists believe that improving your eczema is like completing a puzzle and you need all of the pieces in place to do it effectively. So while Omega 3 could turn out to be an important part of that puzzle, it’s not the only one you should have. You’ll also need to manage stress levels, look at the products you put on your skin and be aware of your triggers, whether that’s wearing wool or hot baths.
But one thing’s for sure - Omega 3 is vital for plump, moisturised skin. It has to be worth a try, doesn’t it?