Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are structural components of the top layer of the skin. Would they further enhance the quality of our epidermal barrier if applied with our moisturizer daily? Moreover, do all moisturizers which claim to include EFAs indeed contain them? Learn my personal experience with several of them.
Hi guys! You might have read my previous article on Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Then know that this new post is a sequel to that one. I realized a posteriori that I needed to make that first EFAs article easier to understand for the general (not scientific) public. You can go through the new, shorter version here.
At the same time, I decided to talk about my now updated experience with different skincare products with fatty acids in a new, separate post. So here it is!
It is the only time I have split a previously published post like this. I hope you do not mind. I thought this atypical change was worth it for clarity (and updated content). Thus, let’s start where we left it now.
Does linoleic acid make more effective moisturizers?
The moisturizers that contain significant amounts of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids are science-proved to improve the quality of the epidermal permeability barrier1. I analyzed that in my article Power molecules that fortify your winter skin. You can take a look here.
As I discussed in the previous EFAs article, linoleic acid (the omega-6 essential fatty acid) is a critical component of the acyl-glucosylceramides, lipids of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin). When those ceramides are low or defective, too much trans-epidermal water loss occurs, and the skin becomes excessively dry.
That can be the molecular basis of ichthyosis vulgaris (and other types of ichthyosis), a condition often mistaken with “regular” dry skin2. But while dry skin usually improves upon topical linoleic acid, sometimes ichthyosis might not (due to genetic defects in the metabolism of acyl-glucosylceramides).
What would happen if we introduced linoleic acid in a moisturizer with meaningful amounts of cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids? Or if we put linoleic acid-containing ceramides (acyl-glucosylceramides) in that same type of moisturizer? Moisturizers with those features could be even better, more suited to keep an optimal epidermal barrier in any skin type. Put some alpha-linolenic acid on top of that (the omega-3 essential fatty acid), and it could add anti-inflammatory properties.
So, if you have oily, balanced, or dry skin, daily moisturizers with added linoleic acid are an excellent option. They could also be apt for atopic skin or ichthyosis (especially ichthyosis vulgaris). Moreover, oily and acne-prone skin often presents lower cutaneous linoleic acid (you can read more about that in my previous article). So a moisturizer with it can be a great ally.
Can we find a moisturizer like that on the market?
We can find moisturizers with ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids (take, for example, the CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion, a lightweight moisturizer). However, it can be harder to come across moisturizers with essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol. An example of the latter is Liquid Gold from Stratia. It seems to contain fair quantities of rosehip oil and sea buckthorn oil (which are good sources of essential fatty acids) alongside ceramides and cholesterol.
Nonetheless, the fact that a moisturizer might not contain ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids does not make it a non-efficient moisturizer right away. I have seen decent moisturizers that do not include ceramides or cholesterol but contain linoleic acid (take the Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer, a lightweight one). Or even linoleic and linolenic acids (the Biossance Squalane and Omega Repair Cream, a rich moisturizer more suitable for drier skin).
I often use the CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion as a morning and evening moisturizer. I have sensitive, greasy skin (on the forehead, nose, and chin) with rosacea, and I love it. I have used it for years now. Recently I tried the Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer. And I will tell you how it feels on my skin (compared with the CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion) in the last section of this article.
Lately, I also found a brand new moisturizer with what could be acyl-glucosylceramides. It is The Inkey List Omega Water Cream. It claims a 0.2% ceramide complex rich in omega 3, 6, and 9. So it contains ceramides and fatty acids but does not seem to include cholesterol (I add the product ingredient list below).
Water (Aqua / Eau), Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Glycerin, Niacinamide, Propanediol, Betaine, Polyglyceryl-4 Isostearate, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Magnesium Sulfate, Glycosphingolipids, Glycolipids, Sodium Benzoate, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Oleic Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Polyglycerin-3
Ceramides are a class of sphingolipids. Thus, presumably, the glycosphingolipids you see on the list might be acyl-glucosylceramides. The product also contains other fatty acids since oleic acid is an omega-9 non-essential fatty acid. But how do we know that it has linoleic acid or omega-3s?
Is this moisturizer as effective as, for example, the CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion with cholesterol, ceramides, and fatty acids? Maybe not. To find out that, we would need to apply both products to skin with a non-intact epidermal barrier function and measure whether both do a similar job in restoring it (that is, in diminishing trans-epidermal water loss).
My experience with various moisturizers (and oils) with EFAs: an oily-combination skin viewpoint
Omega Water Cream (The Inkey List)
I bought the Omega Water Cream and have applied it for six weeks now. So far, I do not dislike it. It feels light on the skin as you spread it and did not cause me any cutaneous irritation. But my combination skin (with greasy and balanced skin areas) does not absorb it that well. The CeraVe PM Moisturizing Lotion, for instance, sinks into my skin much better.
In other words, a thin, non-greasy product layer remains on the skin throughout the day. That is not necessarily bad. It can be a good thing in a product intended to keep the skin moisturized. But I prefer products that do not leave any significant residue on top of the skin (something common among many people with oily skin).
Also, after a few hours, it makes my skin way shinier than the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion (which is good for oily-combination skin). To wrap up my review of this product, I avoid applying it after I wash my hair at night (to prevent it from becoming greasy while I sleep). I use it only in the morning (or on the central area of my neck).
So, even though the Omega Water Cream is a lightweight moisturizer, it does not suit my combination skin (thus, it might not be the best for other people with oily-combination skin either). I won’t re-purchase this product for my personal use. If your facial skin is drier, you may enjoy this product (it is suitable for all skin types, according to The Inkey List).
Other than that, the product does not have too many ingredients (which I like). However, I wish the ingredient list was more straightforward, and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were explicit. Otherwise, you cannot know whether you apply those fatty acids (or fatty acid-containing ceramides).
Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer
The main features of this gel are a high content of squalane (a lipid equivalent to the squalene that is naturally present in our skin) and glycerin. It also contains a probiotic ingredient (Lactococcus ferment lysate) and linoleic acid. In this case, linoleic acid clearly shows in the ingredients list (I add it below): I love that!
Water/Aqua, Squalane, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Pentylene Glycol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Lactococcus Ferment Lysate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Dimethiconol, Chrondrus Crispus Extract, Allantoin, Bisabolol, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols, Linoleic Acid, Phospholipids, Sodium Phytate, Lechithin, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hyaluronate, Lactic Acid, Lepidium Sativum Sprout Extract, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Benzoate, Citric Acid, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract.
It does not include ceramides or cholesterol. I have used this product morning and evening for about twelve days now, and I like it. It feels good on the skin, spreads well, and has a dewy finish that dries out matte after a minute or two. I prefer this product rather than the Omega Water Cream, mainly because it does not leave any residue on top of my skin.
However, the Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer does not feel as nourishing as the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion (or the Omega Water Cream). Thus, for me, the Biossance product is a good option underneath sunscreen. Given that sunscreen products usually have additional moisturizing ingredients and tend to be heavier.
Additionally, despite being the most lightweight of the three, the Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer also makes my nose shine more than the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion (after a few hours).
So, I lean towards the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion. Because it’s nourishing, leaves no significant residue on the skin, dries matte, and my skin stays shine-free for longer.
That may have to do with the fact that it contains fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol. And that combination of active ingredients feels more effective than ceramides or linoleic acid alone (as proved by science).
I also like moisturizers that contain dimethicone (a silicone) as an emollient and occlusive ingredient. Many are non-comedogenic and have a light texture and non-greasy feel. And the Omega Water Cream does not contain dimethicone (it might be why it feels heavier, non-matte on my skin).
100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil (The Ordinary)
For the most part, my skin (and scalp) comprises normal and oily areas, and oils don’t sink that well into it. They also stick easily to my hair and make it greasy. Nonetheless, despite my little love for applying oils directly to my skin, given the positive experience narrated by other people with oily skin, I gave the rosehip seed oil from The Ordinary a try.
I started applying a couple of drops (one on each cheek) after washing my face at night. Then I spread them only over the central areas of my face. There is where my troublesome areas are: rosacea and oily skin. I pat them well with my fingers to ensure the skin absorbs the oil as much as possible before applying a lightweight moisturizer (the Biossance gel or CeraVe PM lotion).
When I touch my face the morning after, I notice where I applied the rosehip oil that the skin feels more soft and supple than in other areas (and not particularly more oily than usual). But I believe a tiny oil drop goes a long way. If you have oily or combination skin, I don’t think you need more than that.
If you have dry skin, you might love that kind of skincare routine with 100% virgin rosehip oil or sea buckthorn oil to optimize your cutaneous essential fatty acids. Moreover, it could be superb if the moisturizer you put after them had ceramides and cholesterol.
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you could consider that skincare routine since it would enhance your cutaneous linoleic acid. But, to be honest, I don’t think that is something you would need to do every day. Perhaps once or a few times a week, or when your skin feels like it. That’s what I will continue doing on my combination skin.
Bear in mind that the oil containers should remain well-stored (and closed) in a cool, dark place to keep the fatty acids from becoming rancid (and maintain their properties)!
I hope you have enjoyed this article. Please leave any questions below or send me a message on Instagram (@drmariamonterrubio). Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog and follow me on Instagram for more biology lessons and skincare tips and tricks.
See you soon!
For your reference:
1Optimization of physiological lipid mixtures for barrier repair. M Man MQ et al., J Invest Dermatol, 1996; 106 (5): 1096-101.
2Acylceramide is a key player in skin barrier function: insight into the molecular mechanisms of skin barrier formation and ichthyosis pathogenesis. Akiyama M, FEBS J, 2021; 288 (7): 2119-2130.
Octadecadienoic acids in the skin surface lipids of acne patients and normal subjects. Morello AM et al., J Invest Dermatol, 1976; 66 (5): 319-23.
The composition of the ceramides from human stratum corneum and from comedones. Wertz PW et al., J Invest Dermatol, 1985; 84 (5): 410-2.
Digital image analysis of the effect of topically applied linoleic acid on acne microcomedones. Letawe C et al., Clin Exp Dermatol, 1998; 23 (2): 56-8.
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