Vitamin F, Moisturizer for ALL skin types, linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid

If you’re asking questions like what is Vitamin F? And what is great about it for my skin and why are talking about it today? Well, Vitamin F is an essential nutrient that your body needs but can’t produce itself and must get from your diet. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it’s not a “vitamin” in a conventional way. But all skin types need it!

Vitamin F is a combination of two polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA): linoleic acid (LA), a primary Omega-6 essential fatty acid (EFA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a primary Omega-3 EFA. Through the different oxygenated metabolites, Vitamin F plays numerous homeostatic and pathophysiological reactions - from keeping cell membrane structure to regulating immune response.

Our body can convert ALA into other beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  They help reduce inflammation throughout the body, help with heart and brain health as well as with growth and development. That’s the reason you see DHA added milk for children.  LA is also converted into other fats in your body. It helps to reduce heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Some background always helps to simplify things, so here is where it all started: In 1929 an assistant professor of plant physiology at the University of Minnesota, George Oswald Burr and his wife Mildred Burr published two papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that said fatty acids were critical for health. These articles were received with great skepticism because they were against the conventional belief that fats were just calorie sources without essential benefits. And obviously, were not received very well. But the couple demonstrated that rats which were fed fat-free diets developed certain diseases which could be prevented or even reversed by simply consuming what we now are discussing, vitamin F.  The two papers by the couple are now regarded as classics in biochemistry and the landmark discoveries in lipid research. Go figure! 

So as far as food sources are concerned, olive oil, almonds, soybean, corn oil and sunflower seeds are rich in LA. In general, many foods high in LA also contain some level of ALA. However, particularly high levels of ALA can be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Research shows a 4:1 ratio of LA to ALA in your diet is recommended to help optimize the benefits of vitamin F.

Deficiency in vitamin F can manifest as dry skin, hair loss, slow wound healing, vision problems and slow growth in children. 

Now zooming in topical applications, vitamin F hydrates, replenishes and restores skin barrier. It is a great antioxidants and anti-inflammatory as well. That is why compromised skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis absolutely need it to calm and heal. 

The stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, consists of corneocytes and intercellular lipid bilayer (aka lamellar phase). The integrity of the skin barrier depends on lipids sometimes referred to as The Big Three. The lipids are ceramides (about 50%), sterols (about 25%), and free fatty acids (about 10-20%). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are precursors for these Big Three bioactive lipids. But the level of PUFA in the epidermis and dermis is generally low. It also depends on your dietary intake. That is where topical application comes incredibly helpful. Put it simply, you can supplement your skin’s lipid needs through skincare products. 

So, the next question might be, how do you pick lipid rich products. I plan to do a series of natural oil videos so make sure to check them out. But as a background, plant oils are great because they can easily penetrate through the lipid structures of the skin and interact with the cell membrane and do your skin some good.

There are a few points I want to leave you with today though:

  1. The facial skin, as you might have noticed already, is more sensitive than the rest of the skin on our body. There's some of suggested reasons for this which include;
    • The cells on the top layer of facial skin being smaller in size
    • Thinner fat layer than body skin; considerably higher number of pores on face than anywhere else, making it less effective barrier for water loss and
    • Higher numbers of sebaceous glands present on it
  1.  There are hundreds of different types of oils, each with their own unique characteristics. Additionally, plant oils contain varying proportions of monounsaturated (MUFAs), polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fatty acids, and saturated fatty acids (SFAs). Furthermore, different oils have their own distinct compositions of fatty acids of varying chain lengths and grades of saturation.
  2. Oil extraction methods are important to consider when picking your oils as well. For example, unrefined (cold pressed) oils retain the most nutrients and unadulterated fatty acids and are likely less irritating. The chemistry, physical properties and function of volatile or essential oils is quite different from cold pressed oils. It’s important to know these things to make the most of your efforts, and money.

What all of these mean is, not all oils are suited for the skin and particularly, not all oils are suited for the face.  

REFERENCES

Baker, Ella J., et al. "Metabolism and functional effects of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids in humans." Progress in lipid research 64 (2016): 30-56.

Chew, Ai-Lean, and Howard I. Maibach, eds. Irritant dermatitis. Springer Science & Business Media, 2006. 

Di Pasquale, Mauro G. "The essentials of essential fatty acids." Journal of dietary supplements 6.2 (2009): 143-161.

Firooz, Alireza, et al. "Variation of biophysical parameters of the skin with age, gender, and body region." The Scientific World Journal 2012 (2012).

Herman, Anna, and Andrzej P. Herman. "Essential oils and their constituents as skin penetration enhancer for transdermal drug delivery: a review." Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 67.4 (2015): 473-485.

Moore, Erin M., Charles Wagner, and Slavko Komarnytsky. "The Enigma of Bioactivity and Toxicity of Botanical Oils for Skin Care." Frontiers in pharmacology 11 (2020).

Pappas, Apostolos, ed. Lipids and skin health. Springer International Publishing, 2015.

Spector, Arthur A., and Hee-Yong Kim. "Discovery of essential fatty acids." Journal of lipid research 56.1 (2015): 11-21.

Vaughn, Alexandra R., et al. "Natural oils for skin-barrier repair: ancient compounds now backed by modern science." American journal of clinical dermatology 19.1 (2018): 103-117.

Ya-Xian, Zhen, Takaki Suetake, and Hachiro Tagami. "Number of cell layers of the stratum corneum in normal skin–relationship to the anatomical location on the body, age, sex and physical parameters." Archives of dermatological research 291.10 (1999): 555-559.

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