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Is your skin dry, itchy or perhaps flaky? Are you struggling to keep it smooth, plump and dewy? If the answer is yes, your skin might be reacting to a change of environment, medication, skincare routine or ageing. There’s also a good chance it lacks the nutrients required to perform at its best. Moisturising your skin is essential for its wellness, and cosmetic products rich in oleic acid can help.
Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing, oleic acid nourishes, repairs and replenishes the lipid skin barrier – protecting it against toxins, irritants, and other environmental stressors. It is an excellent choice for dry, itchy skin but is also helpful in treating eczema and psoriasis.
Choosing products high in oleic acid can help you nourish and moisturise your skin, keeping it soft and smooth. Let’s look at the oleic acid’s structure, its sources and how it can help you restore your dry skin.
Table of Contents
- What Is Oleic Acid?
- Oleic Acid Therapeutic Benefits
- Natural Sources Of Oleic Acid
- Dry Skin
What Is Oleic Acid?
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid with a double bond at position 9 (commonly known as omega-9 fatty acid). Naturally derived, it is the primary fatty acid in oils such as palm oil, olive oil, peanut oil, cocoa butter, and sunflower oil.
Studies show that oleic acid can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier if used by itself. However, used along with other ingredients, it does not seem to have the same effect. Combining oleic acid with other fatty acids increases its ability to moisturise the skin, thus protecting the barrier.
Oleic Acid Therapeutic Benefits
Dry skin is generally abundant in linoleic acid but has smaller amounts of oleic acid, in contrast to oily skin. Oleic acid, thicker than linoleic acid, smoothes and evens the skin surface – making it perfect for dry skin. Let’s take a look at oleic acid’s main functions.
The barrier-disrupting properties of oleic acid are a double-edged sword. Typically, the skin barrier may not allow for free penetration of products applied topically. Oleic acid alters the lipid ‘cement’ between the skin’s cells and changes its structure. Thus, it allows for enhanced permeability of ingredients through the superficial skin layers.
This increase in permeation promotes faster and deeper absorption of other ingredients – translating into better efficacy and results. It even increases the permeability of lipid-soluble active ingredients.
For example, in the case of a moisturiser, oleic acid’s addition would enhance the penetration of various moisturising ingredients included in the formulation. For dry skin, this would mean better moisturisation, making the skin smoother and more supple.
Oxidative stresses like UV radiation, environmental pollution, smoking and alcohol cause an increase in free radical skin damage. The effect of oxidative stress shows up as premature ageing in the form of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and skin texture. Moreover, dry skin is prone to faster ageing as compared to oily skin. Oleic acid protects the skin from oxidative stresses.
Oleic acid has been shown to promote faster wound healing and skin repair by decreasing specific inflammatory mediators.
Our skin is exposed daily to many external perils that may result in infections, injuries, hazards, and so on. Inflammation is our natural response to threats, essential in maintaining skin homeostasis. Oleic acid has been shown to decrease inflammation and soothe the skin.
Due to its effects on the skin barrier and skin inflammation, an oleic acid is also a great option for patients with psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis known to have dry skin. Adequate moisturisation of the skin helps prevent flares of these conditions.
Natural Sources Of Oleic Acid
Throughout history, plant oils have been integrated into foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. Nowadays, indie brands and well-known cosmetic brands increasingly recognise their therapeutic effects and incorporate plant oils into their formulations. Take a look at the list of oils particularly rich in oleic acid.
- Acai oil
- Avocado oil
- Bacaba oil
- Buriti oil
- Tucuma oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Marula oil
- Marunga oil
- Olive oil
- Sea buckthorn oil
- Sweet almond oil
You will find oleic acid incorporated into face oils (as part of numerous plant-derived oils), serums, moisturisers, and cleansers. If you have dry skin that needs intense hydration, cosmetic products rich in oleic acid are your go-to goodies. Similarly, mature skin tends to be drier due to an impaired barrier function and decreased concentration of hyaluronic acid. Such skin will also benefit from the use of oleic acid-containing creams and oils.
Dry skin usually occurs on the arms and legs but is not uncommon on the body. Also known as xerosis, dry skin magnifies fine lines in the skin, with the skin feeling rough, dull and flaky in appearance. In extreme cases, dehydrated skin might:
- Wrinkle and become rough to touch.
- Flake off.
- Shrink, causing cracks to develop, which can become too deep, and might even bleed.
- Itch. People with dry skin might become very itchy.
- Some might experience a burning feeling.
- Skin peeling off
- In severe cases, the skin might feel raw from excessive cracking and bleeding.
Leading Causes of Dry Skin
Whether you live, you are likely to experience dry skin at some point in your life, and there are several reasons for that to happen. Your skin might be responding to a change of environment, skincare routine, illness or age. “So what are the contributing factors?” you might ask? Well, there are a number of them.
- The environment is a big one. The modern sedentary lifestyle requires us to spend long hours indoors in air-conditioned or over-heated spaces. Cool/ hot dry air can suck the moisture right out of the skin’s upper layer, leaving it dry. That can cause itching, flaking and flare-up of existing skin problems, like eczema and acne.
- Excessive bathing – can dry up the skin, too. Many soaps contain surfactants that remove the dead skin cells but also the skin’s natural oils. These are there to keep our skin hydrated and keep us safe from germs and other harmful substances entering the body. This mixture keeps the skin soft, pliable, and smooth.
- Exposure to chemicals – if you are a mum, you are very likely to get your hands wet throughout the day. Washing dishes, wiping cheeks and bums, cleaning, laundry – you know the drill. Our hands are regularly exposed to soaps, washing liquids or detergents that can again remove the skin’s natural oils, drying up the skin.
- Medical conditions – it isn’t only exposure to chemicals that can leave the skin dry. Illness such as diabetes or malnutrition is also known to dry up the skin.
- Vitamin or mineral deficiency: Our skin, just like the rest of the body, requires nutrients to stay healthy. A lack of vitamins and minerals in your diet can affect the skin. Getting enough vitamin D, vitamin A, niacin, zinc, or iron can improve overall skin condition.
- Ageing. With age, your skin loose sebum, oil that keeps your skin soft and nourished. By the age of 40, your body produces much less sebum resulting in drier and thinner skin.
If your skin becomes dry, treating it can prevent the condition from worsening and developing permanent side effects. Such as being itchy most of the time or developing a severe skin infection.
Long-Term Prevention of Dry Skin
As you can see, dry skin is often a long-term, reoccurring issue – particularly in winter. Suppose you have no underlying medical problems, and your skin is just dry. You can avoid the issue by moisturising the skin regularly.
There are three basic types of over-the-counter body moisturisers that help manage dry skin. Ointments, creams, and lotions. An ointment is 80% oil and 20% water; the cream is 50% oil and 50% water, and lotions, although similar to cream, are much lighter formulations.
Balms: Rich, oil-based ointments lock in the moisture that dry skin so desperately needs. Gentle, natural formulations reduce the risk of skin irritation and itchiness.
Creams: Choosing naturally formulated creams high in oleic acid can be quite remedial. You will find many creams packed with natural organic ingredients not only smell great but also hydrate, nourish and relieve the skin inside out – disguising fine lines and wrinkles.
Lotions: With more natural products on the market, we are spoiled for choice. Naturally formulated lotions include several hydrating ingredients that will lock the moisture in your skin, keeping it soft and hydrated. Plus, they are light and absorb quickly without leaving a greasy residue.
Not all oils are equal. When choosing natural oils and moisturisers, you need to consider essential factors – your skin type (whether it’s dry, irritated or ageing) and the composition of the products you use. We are all different, and so is our skin. I might find certain oils irritating, yet your skin might tolerate them well. It is about understanding your skin, and skin type and finding out what works for you at the end of the day.
Is oleic acid bad for the skin?
Oleic acid, Omega-9, can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier if used by itself. However, used along with other ingredients, oleic acid has a therapeutic effect. By penetrating the skin barrier, oleic acid promotes faster and deeper absorption of other ingredients – translating into better efficiency – resulting in well moisturised, smoother and more supple skin.
What skin type would most benefit from oleic acid?
Oils rich in oleic acids, such as olive oil, are of thick and rich consistency. Although they might take a little longer to absorb, they are particularly suitable for dry, itchy and ageing skin, leaving it soft and smooth. Oils rich in oleic acids are also helpful in treating eczema and psoriasis.
- Mittal, Ashu & Sara, Udaivir & Ali, Asgar & Aqil, Mohd. (2009). Status of Fatty Acids as Skin Penetration Enhancers-A Review. Current drug delivery. 6. 274-9. 10.2174/156720109788680877.
- Cardoso CR, Favoreto S Jr, Oliveira LL, et al. Oleic acid modulation of the immune response in wound healing: a new approach for skin repair. Immunobiology. 2011;216(3):409-415. doi:10.1016/j.imbio.2010.06.007