Sorry if every post on this site starts with a seemingly self-evident statement, followed by a complete contradiction.
But that’s pretty much how conventional acne advice works, and unless you’re willing to experiment and challenge the perceived wisdom, you could find yourself going round in circles with your acne treatment.
Fish oil and cod liver oil do indeed contain omega 3s. Cod liver oil also contains other good things like vitamin A and vitamin D, both of which are great micronutrients for acne.
And omega 3s (by which I’m really referring to eicosapentanoic acid and decosahexanoic acid, or EPA and DHA) tend to have the effect of reducing inflammation in the body.
Since the acne formation process starts with inflammation, it’s logical that taking in additional omega 3 will help stop spots from forming and reduce the severity of the infection and the redness in any pimples you do get.
So I’m not advocating anything other than yes, omega 3s are great for acne.
Fish Oil and Cod Liver Oil
But fish oil and certain types of cod liver oil are not great sources of these excellent nutrients, and may in fact make acne worse.
You see, in order to be truly healthy, it is the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 you need to be concerned with, not just the total amount of omega 3.
Omega 6 fatty acids, as you may already have heard, are some of the most inflammatory molecules in our food. They are incredibly reactive, meaning they use up inflammation-fighting molecules like antioxidants at an alarming rate.
And when there aren’t enough omega 3s and antioxidants to neutralise the effects of excess omega 6 in your diet your inflammation levels start to rise very quickly, contributing to redder, angrier acne which just won’t go away – because the problem is your immune system itself going into overdrive and reacting to every tiny blocked and infected pore, which in other people would just sort itself out.
Now, the ideal ratio of 3 to 6 is 1:1. This means that there are just enough omega 3 to reduce the inflammation caused by omega 6 – and if you ate a diet of just fish, poultry and vegetables you’d probably be just fine.
Except, most of us don’t…
Omega 6 in the diet
Omega 6 fatty acids (the bad kind) are found in just about every processed food you eat.
The main sources are processed oils:
- corn oil
- vegetable oil
- canola oil
- safflower oil
- soy bean oil
Look at the ingredients of just about any processed junk food you eat and you’re almost guaranteed to find one of the above.
Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that nuking your system with all the omega 3’s contained in fish oil and cod liver oil would be a good thing, bringing your ratios back into line.
Which kind of follows, until I tell you that omega 3 fatty acids are every bit as reactive in the body as omega 6 fatty acids.
Both belong to the nutrient group known as Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs).
Go ahead and look up the dangerously inflammatory effects of PUFAs once you’ve finished reading this post, because I don’t want to take this post off on a tangent, but suffice it to say they are bad news and have been blamed for all sorts of cancers, heart conditions, strokes, Alzheimers, etc. And acne.
These bad effects get worse as the fish oil and cod liver oil get less and less fresh – they’re so reactive that oxidation is very difficult to prevent and the oils can quickly go bad, leading to an increase in inflammation if you’re foolish enough ingest them (there are a lot of anecdotal reports online from people who’ve taken omega 3 supplements and found themselves breaking out).
It’s a bit like a nuclear chain reaction – having just a little bit of oxidised PUFA in your body will lead to the oxidation of more PUFA, which will oxidise even more PUFA and before you know it your immune system is on high alert.
And you’re more likely to get acne as a result, which is why I’ve always stayed away from omega 3s in treating my own acne.
The one exception…
Here we go again with the contradictions – having told you that fish oil and cod liver oil could be bad for acne, actually there is one supplement which is often beneficial, and that’s fermented cod liver oil. Remember – fermenting is not the same thing as going rancid and oxidising.
Now, I’ve never taken FCLO, so this isn’t something I have first hand experience with, but from what I’ve researched fermented cod liver oil contains a great deal of vitamins A and D in the correct proportions for optimal absorption and utilisation, as well as a sensible amount of omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation.
The best thing to do then, rather than try to increase your intake of omega 3, is to ditch the fish oil and cod liver oil, decrease your intake of omega 6 and if you want to, take up to 2ml per day of fermented cod liver oil.
Same effect, but a very different method and hopefully for your skin, a very different outcome. If I never convinced you with the only diet I recommend for acne, at least do yourself a favor and cut out the processed foods. Anything you can do to reduce the inflammatory load is going to benefit your acne.