Regardless of your age, having persistent acne can be frustrating. You may have tried countless treatment options, from dietary changes to medical treatment, to no avail.

Some have suggested that polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids might improve acne, thanks to their speculated anti-inflammatory effects on your body.

The three types of omega-3s are:

  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

EPA and DHA are found mainly in fish and fish oils, and ALA is found in some nuts and seeds. They are essential, which means you need to get them from your diet or supplements.

This article reviews the link between omega-3s and acne.

Acne is often thought of as an inflammatory skin condition and is manifested by raised bumps and pimples.

They are usually red or pink and can be accompanied by dark spots, depending on your skin tone. They are also filled with pus and tend to rest on your face, neck, back, and chest.

Normally, the buildup of bacteria and excess oil is what clogs the pores and hair follicles in your skin, causing tender, swollen breakouts as part of your body’s inflammatory response (first, 2, 3).

These acne lesions can increase the activity of inflammatory mediators in your skin, such as interleukin-1, which then trigger a variety of inflammatory phenomena (2, 4).

It was once thought that only certain types of acne were linked to inflammation, but more recent research suggests that inflammation plays a role in most types of acne.2).

However, inflammation is not the only contributing factor. Other things that can influence the development of acne are (first):

  • hormone
  • medicine
  • stress
  • grow old
  • Pollution
  • humidity
  • Main food

Summary

Acne is an inflammatory condition that manifests as pimples and lesions that develop due to clogged pores and a buildup of bacteria and oil.

Because of the underlying causes of acne, some people believe that omega-3s can prevent or improve it.

Omega-3s and inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, have anti-inflammatory effects. Thus, it is speculated that they may indirectly fight acne by targeting inflammation (5).

In one small study, participants with acne had lower blood EPA levels and higher blood levels of certain inflammatory markers than participants without acne (6).

However, it remains unclear whether supplementing with EPA or other omega-3s can prevent or treat acne.

A randomized, controlled trial in 45 people with mild to moderate acne found that taking 2,000 mg of supplemental EPA and DHA daily for 10 weeks significantly reduced inflammatory acne lesions and non-inflammatory acne (7).

On the other hand, a study in 13 people with inflammatory acne did not observe significant changes in acne severity or the number of inflammatory lesions after participants took daily fish oil supplements with 930 mg of EPA for 12 weeks (5).

In fact, while some participants noticed an improvement in their acne, other participants’ symptoms worsened. These mixed results suggest that the effectiveness of omega-3 supplements on acne may depend on ((5):

  • people
  • type of omega-3
  • type of acne
  • other unspecified factors

Overall, research on the link between omega-3s and inflammatory acne is limited. More extensive research is needed (8).

Food supplements versus food sources

Most research on the use of omega-3s in the treatment of acne has focused on supplements, especially EPA and DHA. ALA supplements have not been studied for their effects on acne.

There are also no studies on the effects of increasing dietary omega-3 intake in the treatment of acne.

However, some observational studies show that people who eat good sources of omega-3 have a lower risk of acne than people who don’t eat these foods.9).

For example, one study of 500 patients in dermatology clinics found that those who ate fish at least once per week had a 32% lower risk of moderate to severe acne (9).

While these results suggest that eating more fish – the best dietary source of omega-3s – may protect against acne, they don’t tell us the food sources of omega-3- 3 or just how omega-3s might affect the condition.

Summary

Since acne is associated with inflammation, it is speculated that anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids may prevent or treat it. While some studies suggest that omega-3 supplements reduce acne severity, others have mixed results. Ultimately, more research is needed.

Omega-3 supplements for acne can have unwanted side effects.

For example, in the aforementioned study of 13 people, 4 people with mild acne at the start of the trial had worse symptoms after taking an EPA supplement for 12 weeks. On the other hand, people with moderate to severe acne improved their symptoms after the test (5).

The effects of omega-3s on acne can depend largely on the individual. Because research on this topic is limited, it’s hard to predict whether you might get your acne improved or worse when taking omega-3s.

Omega-3 supplements can also have other side effects.

Fish oil is the most popular omega-3 supplement. Side effects of taking fish oil include (ten):

  • bad breath
  • Body sweat has a fishy smell
  • headache
  • heartburn
  • nausea
  • diarrhea

That being said, fish oil is generally safe for most people. However, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional first to see if fish oil or another type of omega-3 supplement is right for you.

Summary

It is possible that omega-3 supplements may worsen acne in some people, although there is some limited research on this topic. Taking omega-3s in the form of fish oil can also cause mild (although rare) side effects.

While some studies have had promising results, research on the link between acne and fish oil supplements, fish, and other forms of omega-3s is limited. That’s why there are no standardized recommendations for treating acne with omega-3s.

For example, the American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend taking fish oils or omega-3 supplements to treat acne (11).

If you have acne and want to increase your omega-3 intake, eating more fish is a good way to start. Try to eat at least 227 grams of seafood per week. Salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are particularly good sources of omega-3s (ten).

Children and those who are pregnant should be wary of mercury in fish, as it can harm the brain and nervous system of infants and young children. Choose fish that are low in mercury, including salmon, cod, and shrimp, among others (twelfth).

Plant sources of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, keep in mind that most research on omega-3s, inflammation, and acne has focused on EPA and DHA.

Summary

There are no standardized recommendations for the use of omega-3s to treat acne. Eating plenty of fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts will boost your omega-3 intake without you needing a supplement.

Acne is an inflammatory condition that causes pimples and lesions on the skin. It can affect people of any age, although it is more common in adolescents.

Omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA, have been shown to fight inflammation and have been explored as a treatment for acne.

However, the limited research available has mainly focused on supplements and has shown mixed results. Ultimately, more research is needed.

If you’re interested in eating more omega-3s to see if they improve your acne symptoms, try increasing your fish intake or trying a supplement after consulting with your doctor.

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