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Want Radiant Skin? Feed It Omega-6 (Linoleic Acid)

Linoleic Acid for Skin

Whether you are looking to remedy a particular skin problem or simply want to gain or keep that youthful glow, you are at the right place. All it takes is understanding the crucial nutrients for skin health. 

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid omega-6 that smoothes and softens the skin by increasing its moisture content without weighing it down. It protects the skin’s barrier by preventing TEWL, and wards off UV rays that prompt the formation of free radicals within the skin, resulting in the skin’s premature ageing. 

Eager to learn more? Scroll down to find out more about its function and why it is one of the most popular acids in skincare.  

Table of Contents

What is Linoleic Acid (C18:2)?

Linoleic acid, also called omega-6 fatty acid, is an essential polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acid. It is abbreviated as C18:2, as it is 18 carbons long with 2 double bonds, with the first double bond in the sixth carbon from the end of its chain. 

The word linoleic comes from the Greek words “linon”, meaning flax, and “oleo”, meaning oil and refers to its origin in flax oil. Although our body can’t produce essential fatty acids, we can obtain them from the diet. Nuts, seeds, and oils such as evening primrose oil, grapeseed oil, guava seed oil, prickly pear, and rosehip oil are all excellent sources of linoleic fatty acid.

Linoleic Acid’s Function in Cosmetic Products

In cosmetic products, linoleic acid functions as an emollient and thickening agent. As an emollient, it smoothes and softens the skin by increasing its moisture content. It also acts as a thickening agent, improving the texture, volume and thickness of cosmetic products.


Emollients are plant-based oils and fats used in skincare products to soften the skin and retain moisture. They do so by forming a layer on the skin and preventing TEWL (transepidermal water loss) from the skin surface. Thus, they prevent the skin from drying out and making it smooth, soft and plump.

Thickening agent

“Thickening agents enhance the consistency, volume and viscosity of cosmetic products, thereby providing more stability and better performance. While some thickeners have also emulsifying or gelling properties, the majority of thickeners have the ability to retain water on the skin and act therefore as moisturisers”.

Making Cosmetics

Benefits of Linoleic Acid on Skin

The linoleic fatty acid is a natural component of the skin’s lipid barrier along with cholesterol, ceramides and other fatty acids. Together they provide a protective layer to the skin by preventing external agents from penetrating the skin’s surface and causing sensitivity, itchiness, tightness, dehydration and bacterial infections, among others. 

Studied extensively for its moisturising, anti-inflammatory (2), skin-lightening, and acne-reducing effects, linoleic acid has been shown to:

Maintain a healthy skin barrier

The skin protects us from microorganisms, UV irradiation, allergens, and irritants. The stratum corneum, the outer layer of the skin, is mainly made up of keratin and lipids, which are essential in keeping the protective barrier intact by providing a water-impermeable function (3). Linoleic acid acts as a lipid and an ingredient with anti-penetration properties to the skin’s barrier. It can retain water in the stratum corneum by preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). 

Improve hydration

Sebum, a waxy substance produced by our body, naturally coats, moisturises and protects our skin from TEWL and external threats such as UV radiation and bacterial infections. With age, sebum production slows down, resulting in TEWL and dry skin. Applying emollients rich in linoleic acid can help protect the barrier by forming a thin film on the skin surface. Thus, improving the skin’s barrier function and overall hydration.

Suppress inflammation

Even though inflammation is a natural response to injury and crucial to tissue repair, excessive production can cause chronic inflammation. Linoleic acid has been shown to inhibit the production of inflammatory compounds (1). The result is the reduction or even prevention of redness, swelling, and pain associated with inflammation. 

Promotes exfoliation

Oils are usually not related to exfoliation, but essential fatty acids can also act as exfoliators if applied correctly. The researchers believe that linoleic acid is a natural exfoliator (4) that helps to remove dead cells from the skin, keeping the pores clear and the complexion bright. 

Help to clear acne

When the pores of your skin become inflamed, irritated, and blocked with dead skin cells, oil and bacteria, you might develop acne, which can occur on the face, back, neck and shoulders. 

Linoleic acid is an anti-inflammatory agent that can reduce the redness and swelling of acne lesions. Furthermore, it is an essential element in the production of healthy skin ceramides (5), whose deficiency has been linked to the development of acne.

“Ceramides are instrumental in the skin barrier function. Topical ceramides help improve skin barrier function in acne-affected skin”.

Moisturisers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits

Suppress melanin production

Melanin is a pigment that gives colour to skin, hair and eyes. It is produced by a group of cells called melanocytes, located in the basal area of the epidermis. Sun exposure, injuries, skin inflammation, drugs, and even neurodegenerative diseases can lead to excessive melanin production, causing hyperpigmentation, which is the dark colouration of the skin. Linoleic acid has been shown (7) to inhibit tyrosinase activity. An enzyme that produces melanin, thus reducing melanin production with a lighting effect on the skin.

It will make your skin glow!

Suppose you are looking for healthy, radiant and glowing skin. In that case, linoleic acid, especially when combined with other ingredients – including vitamins A and E, and hyaluronic acid (HA) – can provide a boost for your skin. In addition, linoleic acid helps the stratum corneum maintain its normal barrier function and improves its ability to retain water, thus improving the overall skin hydration. Thus, the skin becomes soft and smooth and “glows” from within.

Who Should Use It?

Well-tolerated by all skin types, linoleic acid is suitable for all skin types, especially those with sensitive or oily skin. Thin and ultra-light, it absorbs quickly without leaving a visible residue on the skin. Based on its anti-inflammatory, hydrating and regenerative effect, it will benefit:

– acne-prone and oily skin by reducing swelling and redness, and boosting the production of ceramides that help improve skin barrier function in acne-affected skin.

– mature, dry skin by improving the skin’s barrier function and preventing water from escaping from the stratum corneum.

– sensitive skin by soothing irritation and inflammation due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

How to Incorporate Linoleic Acid (Omega-6) Into Your Skincare?

Linoleic acid is a common ingredient in facial oils, cleansing oils, serums, moisturisers, and anti-ageing treatments. So there is a possibility that it is already incorporated in some of the products you are using. However, suppose you would like to incorporate it into your skincare. In that case, it is abundant in its natural form in several emollients. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.  

Emollients Rich in Linoleic Acid (Omega-6)

Known for their shooting, softening, and cleansing properties, oils have been used to protect the skin for millennia. Oils like evening primrose oilgrapeseed oilguava seed oilprickly pearrosehip oil and watermelon seed oil are just a few examples of oils abundant in linoleic acid. As many of these oils are incorporated into skincare products, omega-6 plays a vital part in nourishing our skin.

Evening primrose oil

Abundant in linoleic fatty acids (68%-76%), especially gamma-linoleic acid, evening primrose oil is a rich and nourishing emollient used topically to balance sebum production, soothe acne, and reduce the appearance of scars. 

It functions as a deep cleansing agent that helps to unblock clogged pores and soothe inflamed skin(8). Deeply moisturising, evening primrose oil also protects the moisture barrier by preventing TEWL from the skin surface, thereby preventing dehydration and dryness.

In addition, linoleic acid found in the evening primrose oil whitens the skin by inhibiting tyrosinase (9), an enzyme that irreversibly converts the amino acid tyrosine to melanin. 

Grapeseed oil

The anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant qualities of grapeseed oil make it a popular inexpensive ingredient in skincare formulations. It has been shown (10) to soften the skin and improve its moisture content and elasticity. Proanthocyanidin, a potent antioxidant found in grapeseed oil, can even out the skin tone when used topically on a regular basis. Overall, it is a light and easily absorbed oil that helps to regenerate the skin.

Guava seed oil

Rich in linoleic acid (up to 80%) and antioxidant lycopene (a non-provitamin A), the guava seed oil is utilised in cosmetic products for its astringent, antioxidant and non-comedogenic qualities. The topical application of guava seed oil is believed to help soothe sensitive skin, clear acne breakouts, and guard the skin against free radicals and premature ageing. It is a fast-absorbing emollient that improves the skin’s moisture content and delivers a healthy glow to the skin.

Prickly pear seed oil

If you are looking for a sensual skincare ingredient, prickly pear is one of them. Relatively new to the beauty market, prickly pear took the market by storm due to the high amount of bioactive compounds found in the oil. 

Native to Mexico, the prickly pear is a member of the cactus family. Abundant in vitamin A, E, omega-6 (55%-65%), and brimming with antioxidants, the prickly pear seed oil is a highly sought-after emollient with a wide range of benefits. 

It is said to improve hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and dark circles, brighten up the skin complexion and provide deep hydration. In addition, its anti-inflammatory action can help speed healing, while antioxidants found in the oil help repair damage caused by UV radiation and reduce the appearance of fine lines while moisturising and soothing the skin.

Rosehip seed oil

This oil is one of my personal favourites. Abundant in essential fatty acids omega-3 (up to 38%), omega-6 (up to 50%) and omega-9 (up to 18%) and vitamin A, C and E, rosehip oil has been used throughout centuries for its therapeutic actions (11). It reduces the appearance of wrinkles, boosts collagen production, and soothes irritations from dermatitis, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. Moreover, it protects the skin against sun damage and reduces the appearance of scars. Overall, this is a super-duper beauty oil that you should definitely keep in your skincare stash. 

Watermelon seed oil

Lightweight, densely nutrient and ultra fast-absorbing, the watermelon seed oil is a profoundly hydrating emollient characteristic for its clear pale yellow colour and mildly fruity aroma. Abundant in linoleic fatty acids (55%-65%) and antioxidants, the oil strengthens the natural moisture barrier in your skin by preventing TEWL, mitigating inflammation, and helping regulate sebum production. Watermelon oil moisturise, soothe, and protect the skin by delivering nourishing essential fatty acids and antioxidants into deeper layers of the skin, giving your skin a natural glow.

If you’d like to learn more about natural emollients, how they work and how to choose the right one for you click here.


When it comes to healthy glowing skin, omega-6 linoleic acid is essential for healthy skin and has been used in skin care formulations for years. Gentle on the skin, linoleic acid is a potent essential fatty acid that can restore the skin’s barrier, improve hydration, reduce inflammation, suppress melanin production and replenish your skin. So, if you want great-looking skin, why not try omega-6-rich natural emollients?


Why is linoleic acid used in cosmetic products?

While linoleic acid is light, thin and absorbs quickly, oleic acid is heavy, richer and leaves a heavy residue on the skin. While oils abundant in the omega-6 suit all skin types (acne-prone and sensitive skin in particular), oleic acid works better for dry skin. 

Why is linoleic acid used in skincare products?

Linoleic acid helps to strengthen the skin barrier, improving the skin’s barrier function and overall hydration. In addition, due to its anti-inflammatory action, it can reduce the appearance of acne, dark spots and even out skin tone. Plant oils such as evening primrose oil, grapeseed oil, rosehip and watermelon seed oil are rich sources of linoleic acid. 


  1. Wound Healing and Omega-6 Fatty Acids: From Inflammation to Repair
  2. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils
  3. The permeability barrier in essential fatty acid deficiency: evidence for a direct role for linoleic acid in barrier function
  4. Essential fatty acids and acne
  5. Lipid functions in skin: Differential effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on cutaneous ceramides, in a human skin organ culture model
  6. Moisturisers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits
  7. Natural Melanogenesis Inhibitors Acting Through the Down-Regulation of Tyrosinase Activity
  8. Developmental plasticity of central serotonin neurons after 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine treatment
  9. Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies
  10. Assessment of viscoelasticity and hydration effect of herbal moisturisers using bioengineering techniques
  11. Therapeutic Applications of Rose Hips from Different Rosa Species

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