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Linoleic Acid in Skincare, Insights Straight from Research

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We’ve read all the clinical studies regarding the use of linoleic acid in skincare and found all the skin benefits that this fatty acid provides. Keep reading to learn everything about linoleic acid for skin.

Feel free to blame the avocado craze for realizing how important “good fats” are to our bodies. While including foods rich in these types of fats is a great thing as they reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, a whole host of benefits can come from applying them to the skin. Wondering what our latest favorite source of this skin-loving ingredient is? Learn more about the use of linoleic acid in skincare.

What is linoleic acid?

Sometimes referred to as vitamin F, linoleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in the epidermis.[1] In fact, it is an omega-6 essential fatty acid (EFA), which actually means that it is necessary for skin health but isn’t created by the body. This holy grail is found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds and is the most common polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.

Linoleic acid in skincare is something like glue for ceramides or a fatty cushion that prevents water loss, reduces inflammations, and consolidates the protective barrier while giving the skin elasticity and antioxidant protection.[1][2] Frankly speaking, it is crucial for keeping your complexion soft, supple, and hydrated.

Linoleic acid vs linolenic acid

Although they have a very similar structure, as both are members of omega fatty acid families, linoleic acid and linolenic acid are two different ingredients in skincare. Linolenic is an omega-3 fatty acid, while linoleic is an omega-6 fatty acid, and together they make up vitamin F.

Benefits of linoleic acid for skin

Linoleic acid plays a vital role in many biochemical processes, including immune system function, blood pressure regulation, blood clotting, as well as cell growth and development. Read on to learn more about linoleic acid’s benefits for skin and how to use it for maximum results.

  • Promotes hydration: When applied topically, this hydrating ingredient protects the skin’s barrier and retains moisture. How is that even possible? It’s quite straightforward: it helps lessen transepidermal water loss, that is, the escape of water from our skin.[1][2]
  • Provides UV protection: Did you know that vitamin F has the ability to change the cellular response of our skin to UV damage? Yes, linoleic acid was proven to provide an extra layer of systemic photoprotection thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, shielding skin against free radicals and photoaging.[2][3]
  • Restores skin barrier: Linoleic acid is essential for skin health because it contributes to the formation of ceramides, lipids that make up the epidermal barrier’s structure responsible for protecting the skin from environmental aggressors and helping it retain moisture.[2][5][6] As such, the topical use of linoleic acid in skincare restores and strengthens the skin’s barriers for a more resilient complexion. Besides, thanks to its barrier-restoring benefits, linoleic acid is often used to treat chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and dermatitis.[1][4]
  • Helps acne-prone skin: Linoleic acid is often recommended for acne-prone skin because it has anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce follicular inflammation and lessen breakouts.[2] Also, linoleic acid makes the sebum secreted by the sebaceous glands more liquid and soft, which can be cleared more easily from the follicles, so it’s less likely to clog the pores and trigger acne. On the other hand, when the skin lacks linoleic acid, the sebum is produced with oleic acid, which is denser and more likely to block the pores and cause irritation. This is why a large percentage of acne-prone people have low levels of linoleic acid.[7]
  • Softens and reduces inflammations: Linoleic acid is an anti-inflammatory agent that functions as an emollient, keeping skin soft and plump.
  • Brightens the skin: When topically applied, linoleic acid brightens skin and reduces UV-induced hyperpigmentation by suppressing the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens skin color. Also, linoleic acid may boost cell turnover, which helps remove the cells that have accumulated excess melanin from the skin’s surface, promoting an even-looking complexion.[8]

Is it safe?

Although powerful and effective, linoleic acid should be used with caution. Products containing this ingredient have a slightly shorter shelf life and lose their effectiveness three to six months after opening. Other than that, linoleic acid is safe for all skin types (sensitive included), gentle enough to be applied twice daily, and safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Who should use linoleic acid?

The shortest possible answer is – everyone! To be honest, there isn’t a skin type that wouldn’t benefit from a stronger skin barrier. In addition to helping with acne, dryness, and wrinkles, linoleic acid in skincare can help with more serious conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

How to use it

Linoleic cannot be synthesized in the skin, so you need to get it through your diet or topical products. As far as skincare is concerned, linoleic acid comes in many different forms and is incorporated into different skincare formulations. So how to use linoleic acid in skincare depends on the product at hand, but it would be best to start slowly to see how your skin reacts to it before increasing frequency. Although linoleic acid rarely causes irritation, we advise you to do a patch test first.

What ingredients can you pair with linoleic acid

Thanks to its gentle and hydrating nature, linoleic acid plays nicely with any skincare active. You can safely use linoleic acid together with retinol, vitamin C, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.

Linoleic vs. oleic acid

Maybe at first glance, their names will sound a bit scary, but they really aren’t. Both acids play a key role as building blocks in skin cells, giving your skin a smoother, healthier, younger-looking complexion. So what’s the difference between linoleic acid and oleic acid? 

Linoleic acid is lightweight, absorbed very quickly, and is intended for oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin. On the other hand, oleic acid has a richer texture and is ideal for all those with dry, dehydrated, and aging skin.

Final words

Although not a true acid, this essential fatty acid increases skin’s elasticity and plumpness for a visibly softer and brighter appearance. Trust us, vitamin F should be your skin’s new BFF!

Frequently asked questions about linoleic acid in skincare

  1. Is linoleic acid good for oily skin?

    Yes, linoleic acid is a good choice for oily skin since it's lightweight and doesn't feel greasy nor sticky. All skins need hydration and a stronger barrier, and linoleic acid is a fantastic moisturizing treatment for oily skin.

  2. Is linoleic acid good for acne?

    Linoleic acid is often used for treating acne because it softens the sebum and prevents it from clogging the pores. It also reduces follicular inflammation, which in turn prevents further breakouts.

  3. Is linoleic acid safe for sensitive skin?

    Yes, linoleic acid is completely safe for sensitive skin. It increases hydration and fortifies the protective barrier, the two things that sensitive skin needs the most.

  4. Is linoleic acid good for dry skin?

    That's right, considering that it helps retain moisture and prevent dryness, linoleic acid is one of the best treatments for dry skin.


References

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

  1. Nasrollahi SA, Ayatollahi A, Yazdanparast T, Samadi A, Hosseini H, Shamsipour M, Akhlaghi AA, Yadangi S, Abels C, Firooz A. Comparison of linoleic acid-containing water-in-oil emulsion with urea-containing water-in-oil emulsion in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a randomized clinical trial. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018 Jan 5;11:21-28. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S145561. PMID: 29379309; PMCID: PMC5759849.
  2. Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Dec 27;19(1):70. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010070. PMID: 29280987; PMCID: PMC5796020.
  3. Yang, B., Zhou, Y., Wu, M. et al. ω-6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid) activate both autophagy and antioxidation in a synergistic feedback loop via TOR-dependent and TOR-independent signaling pathwaysCell Death Dis 11, 607 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41419-020-02750-0
  4. Li, X, Yang, Q, Zheng, J, et al. Efficacy and safety of a topical moisturizer containing linoleic acid and ceramide for mild-to-moderate psoriasis vulgaris: A multicenter randomized controlled trialDermatologic Therapy. 2020; 33:e14263. https://doi.org/10.1111/dth.14263
  5. Elias PM, Brown BE, Ziboh VA. The permeability barrier in essential fatty acid deficiency: evidence for a direct role for linoleic acid in barrier function. J Invest Dermatol. 1980 Apr;74(4):230-3. doi: 10.1111/1523-1747.ep12541775.
  6. Kendall AC, Kiezel-Tsugunova M, Brownbridge LC, Harwood JL, Nicolaou A. Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model. Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2017 Sep;1859(9 Pt B):1679-1689. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2017.03.016. Epub 2017 Mar 21. PMID: 28341437; PMCID: PMC5504780.
  7. Linder, J.. (2008). Role of oils in the topical treatment of acne. Cosmetic Dermatology. 21. 211-214. 
  8. Ando, H., Ryu, A., Hashimoto, A. et al. Linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid lightens ultraviolet-induced hyperpigmentation of the skinArch Dermatol Res 290, 375–381 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004030050320
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