Fatty Acid Ratios and Your Skin
Natural oils are used extensively throughout the world as moisturizers but in spite of their growing popularity, there is surprisingly limited data on their efficacy and safety profile. Recent studies, however, are showing that products with balanced natural oils with high ratios of linoleic acid to oleic fatty acid are particularly beneficial for sensitive skin.
What is a Fatty Acid?
Fatty acids are building blocks of many different kinds of lipids. Lipids are a category of molecule united by their inability to mix well with water. Fats (including oils) are a type of lipid made up of a glycerol backbone and three fatty acid tails. A typical fatty acid contains 12–18 carbons, though some may have as few as 4 or as many as 36. Fats can have many different kinds of fatty acids tails and the way the carbons bond together impacts the shape of the molecule and the way they fit together. For example, saturated fat contains fatty acid chains that are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms, resulting in a straighter tail. Because of the shape of these molecules, they can sit tightly together, forming denser fats that are solid at room temperature.
What is Linoleic Acid?
In the last few years, much attention has been paid to the dietary importance of essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids play a number of different roles in the body including regulating inflammation, blood pressure and mood.1 The human body needs these molecules and their derivatives, but can’t synthesize them, so they must be obtained from a person’s diet (this is what gives them the name “essential”). There are different types of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but all of them are made from two basic precursors: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for omega-3s and linoleic acid (LA) for omega-6s. For skincare, however, we are mostly concerned with linoleic, omega-6 fatty acids.
What is Oleic Acid?
Oleic acid (OA) is the most common monounsaturated fatty acid in nature (an unsaturated fat means it contains at least one double bond between carbon atoms, meaning it cannot be fully saturated with hydrogen; a monounsaturated fat has just one of these double bonds. Alternatively, a fatty acid may by polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond between carbon atoms). Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid that, unlike the essential fatty acids, is readily produced by humans and other animals and is found in the natural oils produced in our skin.
Why Ratios Matter for Sensitive Skin
Individual natural oils have varying degrees of hydrating and protective properties and research indicates that the ratio of fatty acids dictates which types of oils will be most beneficial in skincare.2 Positive effects are generally associated with low OA and high LA ratios.2 High LA concentrations have been shown to accelerate the development and repair of the skin barrier.2 Some natural oils with the highest LA:OA ratios are sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, hemp seed, and sea buckthorn seed oils. In contrast, olive oil, with its relatively low LA:OA ratio, can actually damage skin when used excessively.3 The reason for this is that high concentrations of oleic acid, on its own, can disrupt the skin barrier, which makes these compounds very good vehicles for delivering ingredients more deeply into the skin. We leverage this technology in our Spot Treatment to help CBD reach deeper layers of the epidermis.
CQuell Products with Ideal Fatty Acid Ratios
Our Eczema Relief Cream and Moisture Locking Balm are formulated with ideal ratios of oleic acid and linoleic acid. These products also leverage other well-established ingredients for sensitive skin including colloidal oatmeal and other soothing and protective ingredients. For those with extreme sensitivity, we offer very simple grapeseed oil, vitamin E and CBD formulations that can easily be added to your established routine for both body and face.
1) Frontiers in Physiology, August 2018, pages 1-15
2) Pediatric Dermatology, January-February 2013, pages 42-50
3) Pediatr Dermatol, January 2019, pages 9-15