Fish oil OR snake oil? Are the benefits of fish oil for skin & hair real?
Are the benefits of fish oil for skin & hair real? Or is it another marketing gimmick to make billions of dollars off people like me (& you)?
I suffer from acne, dandruff, and hair loss; That’s too many things to take care, seriously. All the above diseases affect my external appearance, and ultimately my self-esteem.
Yes, how you look impacts self-esteem, self-confidence, and whatnot. I experience it now and then.
To look better – people spend (waste) money like crazy! Even I’ve wasted loads of money, trying every new product available in the market with positive claims about improving skin health.
How many of those products work? – Hardly 2-3, I can count!
Let’s see where fish oil stands.
What is fish oil?
The answer is easy – certain fishes have oil-rich tissues (like me :P), and the oil extract from these tissues is the fish oil.
Notably, fishes that are especially rich in oil & fit for human consumption are – Krill, Tuna, Mackerel, Herring, Sardines, Salmon, and the liver of Codfish.
To get the fish oil in your body – you can either eat these fishes regularly or consume fish oil capsules.
How are fish oil capsules made?
In a factory, oily fishes get cut into small pieces and steam cooked. They then spin this prepared matter at high speed (centrifuged) to separate the liquid and dry solid mass.
Dry solid mass becomes the fish meal, which is a protein-rich animal feed. The liquid is water and oil. Machines process this mixture of water and oil further to remove the rest of the water and other impurities. You get pure fish oil at this stage.
At the final stage, they add anti-oxidants into the oil to preserve it for a longer time. Fish oil is then encapsulated in gelatin capsules, bottled and shipped to the markets (both online & brick and mortar shops).
Nowadays, I’ve seen fish oil capsules with flavor! Flavor helps prevent fishy burps – a common, harmless side effect.
On that note – please don’t try getting too close to your sweetheart for an hour or two after consuming fish oil. You don’t want to feel the embarrassment of burping with a fishy smell.
Can’t I eat fish instead of consuming fish oil capsules?
Yes, you can.
Since I am not a chef & this is not a food blog, I won’t talk about how to cook & eat oily fishes. All that I can tell is you need to eat at least one portion (140g) of oily fish per week. The recommended intake is two portions (280g) per week (UK food standards agency). Do not exceed 280g of fatty fish per week as it can be toxic.
OR, if you are like me & love shortcuts – merely pop a capsule to reap all the benefits!
Why so much hype about the benefits of fish oil?
Because fish oil has Omega 3.
Now, what on earth is Omega 3? Is it a nuclear bomb material?
Let me make it simple for you…
OMEGA-3 is a group of 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Tongue twister ha?
Let me complicate this simple fact –
You know fat, right? Not all fat is unhealthy. You need 40 to 70 grams of fat every day (depending on your height). Without fat, your body won’t function properly.
Now before you feast on fries, let me tell you – we need healthy fat.
OMEGA-3 is – a group of 3 healthy fatty acids beneficial to the human body when consumed as per recommended daily allowance (RDA).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 1750mg per week of EPA+DHA.
What about ALA? 1100mg of ALA per day is sufficient. Fish oils lack ALA, but consuming adequate ALA is not a problem as long as you include nuts, seeds, and olive oil in your diet.
EPA & DHA have the most profound effect on the human body. Still, I recommend consuming enough ALA through a balanced diet.
Now let us jump into the topic at hand – benefits of fish oil for skin and hair:
What are the benefits of fish oil for the skin?
Fish oil, per se, is not effective. It is Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that matter.
Let me start with what matters the most to me – Acne.
Fish oil does not cure acne. But it reduces the intensity of breakouts.
The cause of acne is the abnormally high count of bacteria (P. acnes) on our skin. Oily skin is more susceptible as P. acnes feeds on oil (sebum) and dead skin cells (shed keratin) trapped in skin pores.
Our skin, as a result, produces cytokine. Cytokine is a protein that signals the body’s defense mechanisms to fight infection (and it miserably fails in fighting acne-causing bacteria on its own).
This cytokine thingy is inflammatory – and produces microcomedones (tiny bumps on the skin). Microcomedones then become comedones (bigger bumps on the skin), which ultimately become acne.
However, EPA & DHA reduces inflammation caused by the cytokine. Which, as a result, reduces acne severity in people with mild-to-moderate acne. I suffer from moderate acne and experience a noticeable reduction in acne breakouts since after a month of going on fish oil pills.
Scientific research on humans has proven that fish oil improves acne and can be useful as a supplement with other acne medication.
Fish oil reduces the skin-damaging effects of UV rays.
3 things make you look old – 1) Your growing age, 2) Excessive exposure to sunlight & 3) Consumption of intoxicants, drugs, and few medications.
Don’t expect fish oil to make you look ten years younger. You got it right; it does not protect your skin from aging due to – your age or aging due to drugs/ strong medication!
However, Omega 3 is proven to protect skin from aging due to sunlight exposure (UVB & UVA rays).
Sunlight exposure produces eicosanoids, which are inflammatory molecules (just like cytokine you read about in the acne section). Eicosanoids damage keratinocyte cells, which reduce the production of keratin (the building material of the skin). As the skin needs keratin for maintenance, lower keratin production results in quicker aging of the skin.
Sorry, that was too much of information overload I guess,
In short, overexposure to the sun leads to inflammation of skin cells, which leads to faster aging.
In short, again, fish oil reduces sunlight-induced inflammation (by reducing eicosanoids production), which leads to a reduction in aging.
Likewise, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects of EPA & DHA may slightly reduce the chances of two types of skin cancers – Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) & Melanoma.
3. SCARS & WOUNDS
Fish oil is beneficial in the repair and reconstruction of skin tissues.
That doesn’t mean those acne scars will disappear entirely with no trace whatsoever.
Our proinflammatory friend Cytokines is back again. While the skin is trying to repair and reconstruct wounds, scars, bruises, etc… Cytokines cause inflammation, which disturbs the repair activity.
Just as with acne, EPA & DHA are anti inflammatory and help in reducing cytokine activity. Reduction in cytokine activity promotes the deposition of keratinocyte, which increases the production of keratin – a primary repair material of the skin.
In other words, skin gets adequate raw material (keratin) and reduced disturbing elements (cytokines), which results in faster healing of the skin.
Does it reduce hair loss and help your hair grow?
One of the many benefits of fish oil is the improvement in hair health.
It does nothing to cure male pattern baldness, hair loss due to aging, genetic hair loss, or hair loss due to side-effects of particular medication/ treatment.
Fish oil benefits hair only in two ways – reduction in inflammation & increase in keratin production.
Inflammation of the scalp because of infection, sunlight exposure, exposure to harsh shampoos, and cosmetics can damage hair follicles. Hair follicle damage results in the weakening of hair root, which ultimately increases hair loss.
Thus reduction of inflammation by our two anti-inflammatory heroes – EPA & DHA, helps protect hair root – thus reduces hair loss.
Increased keratin production
As discussed earlier, EPA & DHA reduce the production of eicosanoids – which is a Keratin reducing agent. Reduction in eicosanoids promotes the healthy production of keratinocyte and keratin.
Keratin is the basic building block of skin, scalp, and hair tissues too. With enough keratin supply, our body can easily maintain and strengthen the structure of the hair.
Thus, the two-way benefits of fish oil can improve hair quality.
Undeniable, fish oil is beneficial for the skin & hair when taken as per the recommended dosage.
The benefits for the skin and hair are subtle, yet easily noticeable after regular consumption. Don’t expect the results to be life-changing – I’ll repeat – improvement is mild and gradual.
Is it even worth the money to include fish oil in my skin/ hair regimen?
Yes. Fish oil is an excellent companion to other skin improvement products like anti-acne face washes, sunscreens, scalp serums, etc. Let different skin and hair products work externally while fish oil supports them from the inside.
Benefits aren’t merely for improving the external appearance. EPA & DHA improve brain health, heart health, eyesight, and bone health too. These healthy fatty acids also help with depression & anxiety – two of the most common mental health issues in our world today.
Before you buy a bottle of fish oil capsules, remember two critical things –
- Buy from a brand you can trust (to avoid toxicity and adulteration)
- Don’t over consume fish oil – that won’t speed up anything. In fact, it can be dangerous.
250mg to 500mg of EPA+DHA is the recommendation, do not waste your money in capsules offering more amount of EPA & DHA at an astronomically high price.
Bottom line – Consume fish oil capsules for mild improvement in skin & hair quality, a reduction in the rate of skin aging because of sun exposure, and to improve mental, heart, and eye health.
Share your experience in the comment below; this will help me & other readers…