Three vs six. It has been a topic of discussion because the typical Western diet contains too many omega-6 fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats found in canola, soy, and safflower oils) and often not enough omega-3s (found in fatty fish like salmon, flaxseed, and olive oil). The ideal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is about 4:1; most of us are consuming a 20:1 ratio, which can cause potentially harmful inflammation. But how does this play into skin care? I've been talking up consuming omega-3s for their heart, brain, and skin benefits, and topically applying products that contain omega-3s and omega-6s for a while. What I hadn't thought about was how exactly omega-6s in my diet were affecting my skin. This study from the University of Illinois surprised me: according to the research, omega-6s could be good for skin for what seems to be precisely the reason that they can be bad for our health. The body produces a substance called arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, a type of omega-6. (Counterintuitive results follow ...) When arachidonic acid produces prostaglandins, and the kind that can cause inflammatory reactions at that, (OTC painkillers inhibit the conversion of arachidonic acid to prostaglandins) it actually fights inflammatory skin problems. Say, what?
"We usually think of inflammation as a bad thing, but in this case, prostaglandins prevented dermatitis, which is an inflammatory reaction. We measured prostaglandin levels in the animals' skin, and when we fed arachidonic acid to the knockout mice, they resumed making these important chemical compounds," according to Manabu Nakamura, a U of I professor of food science and human nutrition."
My conclusion? If you are one of the majority of people who needs to adjust that ratio don't add omega-6s to your diet. You probably still need to be cutting back. But do realize that finding the right balance may not just have health benefits, it may be boosting your skin's health too. And keep seeking out skin care products that contain omega-3s and omega-6s.