Evening primrose oil (EPO) is a supplement I would not want to do without. It improves skin softness and elasticity, leaving it smooth and resistant to both wrinkles and stretch marks. Despite achieving a waist circumference of almost 60 inches while expecting twins, I don’t have a single stretch mark which I put down to my long-term consumption of this wonderful oil. Evening primrose oil is also invaluable for relieve skin itching and flaking, whether that’s due to eczema or chronic venous insufficiency in the legs (for which red vine leaf extracts are also helpful).
Evening primrose oil benefits
The folk name for the beautiful evening primrose plant is King’s Cure All as it offers so many health benefits. Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds and is a rich source of a fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic or gamolenic acid). GLA is an unusual omega-6 fatty acid, which has anti-inflammatory effects more usually associated with omega-3s.
Up to 10% of evening primrose oil consists of GLA, and this is incorporated into cell membranes throughout the body to make them more fluid and flexible. Other sources of GLA include blackcurrant seed oil and starflower (borage) oil.
You will notice a significant improvement in your skin softness, dewiness and hydration within just a few days of starting to take evening primrose oil capsules. It can also be applied directly to the skin, either as a neat oil or as an ingredient of skin creams.
Some GLA is also converted into hormone-like substances (series 1 prostaglandins) which relax blood vessels to improve blood flow to the skin, suppress inflammation and improve nerve function. This is one of the reasons why evening primrose oil (EPO) can relieve dry, itchy skin. Evening primrose oil is also used to improve hormone balance and, at one time, was even available on prescription to treat cyclical breast pain associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
While you make small amounts of GLA naturally, its synthesis reduces with age and when there is a lack of vitamins and minerals or an excessive intake of saturated fats, sugar or alcohol. Exposure to smoking and pollution also blocks the production of GLA. As a result, deficiency of this important skin oil is common.
Your cells can make do with other fatty acids, but this leads to cell membranes that are less flexible and leaves your skin more prone to itching, dryness, rough and prone to flaking. Lack of GLA is also associated with premature wrinkles, and can cause oil gland ducts to become distorted and trap grease which promotes spots.
Evening primrose oil and dry skin
Evening primrose oil (EPO) helps to stabilise skin cells to support their barrier function and maintain hydration so skin feels softer and looks more luminous.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis is associated with a deficiency of an enzyme, delta-6-desaturase, which is needed to convert the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid on to gammalinolenic acid. Taking evening primrose oil supplements bypasses this block. In people with eczema, evening primrose oil supplements were 25% more effective at reducing skin scaling, dryness, redness and itching than placebo.
The results from nine studies published in the 1980s showed that evening primrose oil was significantly better than placebo in reducing symptoms of dry, itchy skin after several months use. The greatest improvement was seen in the reduction of itching, which was described as ‘particularly striking’.
Evening primrose oil can also be applied directly to the skin for intensive treatment of dry areas. Either snip open a capsule to apply the oil, or use an evening primrose oil bottle and dropper for easy application.
Evening primrose oil and wrinkles
Evening primrose oil helps to maintain a youthful hydration and luminosity in ageing skin, improving elasticity and discouraging fine lines and wrinkles. In one study, involving women in their forties, those taking 3g evening primrose oil every day, for 12 weeks, were assessed by dermatologists as having a 20% improvement in skin moisture, smoothness, elasticity and firmness compared with those taking a placebo oil.
Evening primrose oil also reduces age-related mottling and age-spots but suppressing the over-production of melanin pigment in older women. It does this by regulating the activity of an enzyme (tyrosinase) involved in melanin synthesis. Evening primrose oil is therefore included in many cosmetic products designed to lighten skin tone.
A review published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology included evening primrose oil among the Top 10 botanical ingredients currently used in anti-ageing cosmetic products.
Evening primrose oil and acne
People who are prescribed isotretinoin to treat acne tend to develop skin dryness, especially around the mouth. In a study involving 40 people, those who took evening primrose oil supplements with their acne medication showed significant improvements within eight weeks treatment compared to those who did not take evening primrose oil.
Evening primrose oil and menopause
Falling oestrogen levels mean that hot flushes cause significant problems around the time of menopause for many women. A study involving 56 women found that taking evening primrose oil supplements at the relatively low dose of 1 gram per day, for 6 weeks, significantly reduced the severity of hot flushes compared with placebo. For a more rapid effect, I would normally suggest starting with 3g EPO per day (1g three times a day) and then reducing the dose as symptoms improve.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of evening primrose oil, and its effects on skin, can also improve hair quality in my experience, although little research has been carried out in this area. In veterinary practice, evening primrose oil supplements are used to improve the shine and quality of pets’ hair or fur and it appears to offer similar benefits for human hair, too. If you hair is thinning,using a caffeine containing shampoo will help, too.
Evening primrose oil and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
Evening primrose oil provides building blocks for making sex hormones, and some women find it improves symptoms of premenstrual syndrome such as bloating, breast tenderness, irritability, mood swings and anxiety. At one time evening primrose oil was prescribed medically for these symptoms, but later research found conflicting results, so the ability to prescribe it was stopped and women are advised to buy it themselves. The only way to know if it will help you is to take it for three months to assess the benefits.
Evening primrose oil and dry eyes
Taking evening primrose oil capsules helps to reduce dry eyes, too, especially in contact lens wearers according to one study. When 76 women with dry eyes took either EPO capsules or an olive oil placebo capsule for 6 months, those taking EPO showed significant improvements in dryness and overall lens comfort. The viscosity of their tears was also increased.
Evening primrose oil dose
The usual recommended dose is 1g evening primrose oil, taken one to three times per day.
Vitamins C, B6, B3 (niacin), zinc and magnesium are also needed for the metabolism and action of evening primrose oil, so it’s important to ensure your intake of these is adequate. A multivitamin and mineral supplement may be a good idea.
Which are the best evening primrose oil supplements?
As one of the most popular food supplements, numerous brands are available. The following are the ones I usually recommend as they are made to pharmaceutical standards to ensure purity and consistency.
Evening primrose oil safety
Do not take evening primrose oil if you have a rare nervous system disorder known as temporal lobe epilepsy.
Some doctors recommend avoiding evening primrose oil if you have schizophrenia or a bleeding disorder.
Check with your doctor before taking evening primrose oil during pregnancy as there is some evidence that evening primrose oil may be associated with increased risk of prolonged rupture of membranes during labour.
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