Vitamin F aka Essential Fatty Acids - What to look for in your skincare
Vitamin F is just a fancy new term that's synonymous with essential fatty acids. The essential fatty acids we need in our diets are the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA).
Vitamin F = ALA + LA
What does vitamin F have to do with sun protection? Well, let's take a look.
Let's start out by defining antioxidants because that's why vitamin F offers sun protection... it has antioxidant properties.
What exactly is an antioxidant (and why do we need them)?
Well, let's take a big step back and look at why antioxidants are even necessary for life.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) - The bad guys
During the course of living, our bodies are constantly producing reactive oxygen species (ROS) through the normal metabolism of oxygen.
Reactive Oxygen Species may be oxygen ions or hydroxyl radicals. Don't worry, unless you’re in organic chemistry this semester, you don’t really need to know what those terms mean,
what you need to know is that both oxygen ions AND hydroxyl radicals are VERY reactive/energetic/unstable, which means they're highly destructive to anything they touch whether that's an antioxidant, cell membrane, or DNA.
How antioxidants protect us against Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS)
Our bodies are wonderfully created healing instruments and naturally produce and acquire antioxidants (from food) in the form of:
- vitamins (Vitamins A, C, E, etc.)
- enzymes (have you heard of superoxide dismutase?)
- other chemicals (glutathione, Coenzyme Q-10, etc.)
These antioxidants combat Reactive Oxygen Species by absorbing their destructive energy and rendering them less energetic.
This action is a form of self-sacrifice because the anti-oxidant is also changed in the process (it is oxidized, which means it becomes a different molecule that is no longer capable of acting as an antioxidant).
Does an antioxidant "die" once it's oxidized?
Some anti-oxidants can be resurrected after their self-sacrifice to once again act as molecular heroes against destructive rogue ROS molecules. A good example of this in our body is vitamin C, which can be regenerated by another antioxidant, glutathione.
So, why supplement your diet & skincare regimen with antioxidants?
Under times of stress (sun exposure, exposure to environmental pollutants (i.e. smog) or illness (overwork, etc.), ROS levels increase and begin to cause damage by ramming into our cells and into our DNA with abundant energy.
Anti-oxidant levels are also depleted during times of high stress (standing in the sun, over-exertion), so it’s imperative to try to restore and maintain antioxidant levels in your body through diet and also by applying antioxidants directly to your skin, especially if you're exposed to the sun or environmental pollutants.
Antioxidants for your skin
You know many of the common antioxidants for your skin already: Vitamin C, Resveratrol, Coenzyme Q-10, Vitamin E.
Today, I wanted to talk about one you probably haven’t heard of:
Oils (specifically oils High in Essential Fatty Acids)
I know what you’re thinking!
How can an oil be photoprotective?
Alpha-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that our body (including our skin) needs. Our bodies don't make this omega-3 fatty acid, and it, along with the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, are necessary for our health (including skin health).
Not only are these omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary for our health, but believe it or not, they offer photoprotection to our skin. Extensive research shows that fish oil can protect cells from UV light exposure.
Yes! Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can help protect you from the effects of sun exposure.
Now, the good news is, you don’t have to go around smelling like a fish, you can opt for a botanical oil rich in omega-3 or omega-6 (or both) fatty acids to get your daily dose of Vitamin F (again, just a hype name for essential fatty acids, not a real vitamin).
Here’s a short list of oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids:
- hemp seed oil
- flax & flaxseed oil
- pumpkin seed oil
- chia seeds (and chia seed oil)! Chia seeds are so versatile and so easy to add into your diet, so that makes them a great choice for boosting your antioxidant intake.
The really great thing about oils with high omega-3 and omega-6 content is that they help combat dry skin and can even help with certain skin conditions like eczema.
One of the reasons for this is that omega-3 and omega-6 help reduce inflammation, but that doesn't tell the whole story. I've got some seriously in-depth blog articles if you want to learn more about these essential fatty acids, just scroll to the end of the article for links to those.
In the mean time, if you're looking to treat your skin to an essential fatty acid overload, you’ll find flax seed, chia seed, evening primrose seed, and pumpkin seed oils in Meadowfoam + Fog Body Oil.
You can also find chia seeds in our Halcyon Bath Soak (ground chia seeds plus marshmallow root and licorice creates a nourishing and healthy dessert for your skin after a day on the trail).
And, finally, if you want more tips about protecting your skin from sunlight and helping your skin look its best (by focusing on skin health), be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Now, here's a link to those posts I mentioned:
About the Author
Brandy Searcy is an outdoor girl who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding. Her innate curiosity means she's constantly researching something, and she's likely sharing what she's learned here on the blog.
Nearly obsessive about her skincare, she started developing products to pack with her on day hikes and soon realized her backpacking friends were searching for a portable skincare routine as well, and that's how Rain Organica started.
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