The Skin Saviours: Omega Fatty Acids and Their Role in Barrier Restoration for Rosacea and Sensitive Skin

Fresh orange pumpkin in pumpkin patch

Understanding the Skin Barrier and Its Importance

The Anatomy of the Skin Barrier

The skin barrier, also known as the stratum corneum, is the outermost layer of our skin, primarily composed of lipids (fats) and proteins. It plays a vital role acting as a protective shield from environmental stressors, retaining moisture, and preventing the entry of harmful substances. The skin barrier functions as a physical and chemical barrier, protecting the body from pathogens, regulating water loss, and maintaining skin homeostasis.

Dry, cracked skin texture resembling rosacea symptoms

Consequences of a Compromised Skin Barrier

As we have just discovered, the stratum corneum is essential for maintaining skin barrier function and preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) [1] so when the skin barrier is compromised, it can lead to increased transepidermal water loss (TEWL), sensitivity, and vulnerability to environmental stressors, which can exacerbate skin conditions like rosacea.


Rosacea and Sensitive Skin: Understanding the Challenges

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by facial redness, flushing, visible blood vessels, and sometimes pimple-like bumps. It is classified into four subtypes: erythematotelangiectatic, papulopustular, phymatous, and ocular. Inflammation plays a crucial role in rosacea flare-ups and can further damage the skin barrier, creating a vicious cycle.

Diagram showing the cycle of rosacea, inflammation, and skin barrier damage

Individuals with sensitive skin also face challenges due to a weakened or compromised skin barrier, making them more susceptible to irritation, dryness, and inflammation from various environmental factors and skincare products.

The Power of Omega Fatty Acids for Skin Barrier Repair

Sea buckthorn berries on branch, rich in omega fatty acids for skin health

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Inflammation Fighters

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • They can help reduce inflammation, which is a key factor in rosacea flare-ups, as EPA and DHA give rise to newly discovered resolvins (omega-3 fatty acid-derived lipid mediators) which are anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving [2]
  • Omega-3s appear to improve skin barrier function, sealing in moisture and keeping out irritants [3] making it more resilient to environmental aggressors

Oils rich in Omega-3s: Chia Seed Oil, Pomegranate Seed Oil, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Rosehip Seed Oil

Rose hips rich in omega-6 fatty acids for skin barrier health

Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Barrier Builders

  • Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, has a direct role in maintaining the integrity of the water permeability barrier (outer layer) of the skin [4]
  • Linoleic acid enhances keratinocyte proliferation and lipid synthesis*. This in turn enhances skin barrier repair [4]

*In simpler terms, keratinocyte proliferation helps your skin cells multiply, and lipid synthesis involves making fats that are essential for healthy skin.

  • Omega-6 fatty acids can also have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help alleviate redness and irritation associated with rosacea

Oils rich in Omega-6s: Pumpkin Seed Oil, Safflower Seed Oil, Meadowfoam Seed Oil, Argan Kernel Oil, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Rosehip Seed Oil

Yellow evening primrose flowers, a natural source of gamma-linolenic acid for skin health

Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA): A Soothing Solution

– GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties, making it beneficial for sensitive skin types

  • Improvement of skin barrier has been associated with possible generation of anti-inflammatory metabolites (skin cell turnover) from GLA [5]
  • Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is reportedly effective for treating TEWL (Transepidermal Water Loss) and epidermal hyper-proliferation such as psoriasis [5]

Oils rich in GLA: Evening Primrose Oil, Borage Seed Oil, Blackcurrant Seed Oil


Hourglass with red sand symbolising time-sensitive skin care

The Skin’s Life Cycle and Timelines for Barrier Repair

The skin has a natural life cycle, with cells constantly shedding and regenerating. The average turnover rate for skin cells is around 28-30 days, but this process can be affected by various factors, including age, health conditions, and environmental influences.

When it comes to skin barrier repair, the timeline for seeing noticeable improvements can vary depending on the severity of the damage and the consistency of using products containing beneficial omega fatty acids and ceramides.

Generally, you may start to see some initial improvements in skin hydration, reduced redness, and overall skin texture within 2-4 weeks of consistent use. However, for more significant barrier repair and long-term benefits, it’s recommended to use these products for at least 8-12 weeks.

It’s important to note that skin barrier repair is a gradual process, and patience is key. Consistent and long-term use of these nourishing ingredients is essential for achieving optimal results and maintaining a healthy skin barrier over time.

Skincare product bottles containing facial oils and serums for sensitive skin

Incorporating Omega-Rich Oils into Your Skincare Routine

To incorporate omega-rich oils into your skincare routine, consider using facial oils, serums, or moisturisers containing these ingredients. When choosing carrier oils and products, opt for purer formulations with minimal ingredients and higher concentrations of the beneficial omegas and ceramides. Products with fewer components tend to be gentler and less likely to cause irritation or sensitivities.


Avoid Water-Based Products for Sensitive Skin

For those with sensitive skin or rosacea, it’s best to avoid water-based products, as they require the addition of preservatives to prevent microbial growth. These preservatives are often alcohol based, and alcohol can disrupt the skin barrier and cause skin dryness [6]

Instead, focus on anhydrous (water-free) formulations, such as oils, balms, and serums, which typically have a lower risk of causing adverse reactions. Natural seed oils generally do not contain skin irritants and sensitisers, making them appropriate for topical application [7]

Water droplets on blue surface illustrating skin hydration

Steer Clear of Essential Oils and Fragrances

Individuals with rosacea or sensitive skin should also avoid products containing fragrances, as these can potentially exacerbate inflammation, redness, and irritation.

Essential oils, despite their natural origins, can be potent and may trigger adverse reactions, especially in those with compromised skin barriers or inflammatory skin conditions.

Fragrances were found to be the most common allergens, followed by skin-conditioning agents, surfactants, and preservatives [8] Also bear in mind, the face has been demonstrated to be the most common site of skin sensitivity [9]

Close-up of oil droplets on a yellow surface, representing skin barrier oils

Choosing the Right Products for Sensitive Skin

When choosing carrier oils, look for high-quality sources and check for potential allergens or sensitivities. It’s also recommended to consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional for personalised advice, especially if you have severe rosacea or sensitive skin conditions. A patch test is always recommended when using new ingredients or products.

By selecting pure, minimal-ingredient products and avoiding potential irritants like water-based preservatives, essential oils, and fragrances, you can create a gentle, nourishing skincare routine that supports skin barrier repair and helps alleviate symptoms associated with rosacea and sensitive skin.

Sunset over rural path symbolising omega fatty acids’ soothing touch

The Path to Radiant, Resilient Skin

Incorporating omega-rich oils and products into your skincare routine is an effective and natural way to support skin barrier repair, alleviate rosacea symptoms, and nurture sensitive skin. By harnessing the power of these essential fatty acids, you can fortify your skin’s protective barrier, reduce inflammation, and promote a healthier, more radiant complexion.

Remember, skin barrier repair is a gradual process that requires patience and consistency. Trust in the nourishing properties of these omega fatty acids, and embrace a gentle, minimal-ingredient approach to your skincare routine. Avoid potential irritants like water-based preservatives, essential oils, and fragrances, and prioritise high-quality, pure formulations tailored to your skin’s unique needs.

With this comprehensive guide as your companion, you now possess the knowledge and tools to embark on a journey towards skin barrier restoration, rosacea relief, and a renewed sense of confidence in your skin. Embrace the transformative power of nature’s bounty and experience the radiance that comes from a healthy, resilient complexion.


[1] Kahraman, E., Kaykın, M., Şahin Bektay, H., & Güngör, S. (2019). Recent advances on topical application of ceramides to restore barrier function of skin. Cosmetics6(3), 52.

[2] Calder, P. C. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients2(3), 355-374.

[3] Healthline (2019). Potential Benefits of Omega-3s for Skin and Hair.,-red,-or-itchy-skin

[4] Lin, T. K., Zhong, L., & Santiago, J. L. (2017). Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. International journal of molecular sciences19(1), 70.

[5] Kawamura, A., Ooyama, K., Kojima, K., Kachi, H., Abe, T., Amano, K., & Aoyama, T. (2011). Dietary supplementation of gamma-linolenic acid improves skin parameters in subjects with dry skin and mild atopic dermatitis. Journal of oleo Science60(12), 597-607.

[6] Goh, C. L., Wu, Y., Welsh, B., Abad‐Casintahan, M. F., Tseng, C. J., Sharad, J., … & Chan, H. N. K. (2023). Expert consensus on holistic skin care routine: Focus on acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and sensitive skin syndrome. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology22(1), 45-54.

[7] Hingnekar, P., & Karikar, M. (2022). SAFFLOWER OIL: A MULTIFUNCTIONAL INGREDIENT.,5

[8] Martins, M. S., Ferreira, M. S., Almeida, I. F., & Sousa, E. (2022). Occurrence of allergens in cosmetics for sensitive skin. Cosmetics9(2), 32.

[9] Farage, M. A. (2019). The prevalence of sensitive skin. Frontiers in medicine6, 456643.


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