“PUFAs oxidize faster, and oxidation causes free radical damage, therefore consuming PUFAs will cause cancer, aging, and inflammation!” is the new ‘word of advice’ currently touted by some natural health enthusiasts… but does it carry truth? Yes and no… And the answers will surprise you!! Let’s figure it out here and now with some well-balanced considerations.
Many of these so-called “health experts” praise the benefits of Vitamin E, CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), GA (Gamma Linoleic Acid), and LA (Linoleic Acid) all while simultaneously vilifying PUFAs… This is quite a cruel joke, because all of these are, or can only be derived from, what? You guessed it – PUFAs!
Did You Know? All animal fats (yes, even pasture-raised and 100% grass-fed) contain some amount of PUFAs because they are essential for the life and health of the animal.
So, before you toss away all the PUFA-containing products in your cabinets and pantry, let’s dust off our high school biology books, dig into some well-established science, and rediscover some foundational truths about healthy body care.
What Are PUFAs?
PUFAs are an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA)
The term essential fatty acids (EFA) refers to those polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) that must be provided by foods because these cannot be synthesized in the body yet are necessary for health. There are two families of EFA, omega-3 (ω-3) and omega-6 (ω-6). [source]
Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids are types of fat found in ALL living organisms (including animals), because they are essential to all life on Earth (and the health of your hair and skin).
Beauty Products That Need PUFAs
Since it is a requirement for all life forms, technically we would not have any beauty products without PUFAs. This is especially true for Vitamin E, which is essential in any skincare and haircare product line. Vitamin E is naturally found only in omega-6 PUFA oils and fats, as Vitamin E cannot be created from saturated or mono-saturated fatty acids.
Vitamin E is nature’s most powerful antioxidant and a great anti-inflammatory as well, which is why it is found in PUFA oils, since PUFAs are more sensitive to oxidation and tend to be inflammatory when over-consumed. This means that fresh, well-preserved, low-processed organic PUFA oils are very high in anti-oxidants, which fight free-radicals, aging, and inflammation! We can clearly see from this view alone why PUFAs can actually be very beneficial when used in the correct amounts.
Fake, petroleum-derived, synthetic Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) is no true substitute for the PUFA-rich source of natural Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol), because it is less than half as effective and much less bioavailable (usable by our bodies).
So, do high-quality PUFAs – in balanced ratios of use – cause aging, cancer, and inflammation? NO!
Another important consideration is that the fluid nature of polyunsaturated fatty acids make them easier for the skin to absorb and utilize their unique chemistry. This makes PUFAs very useful ingredients when blended with other vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids to help these become more bioavailable through topical applications.
And if you so happen to stumble upon an article claiming that PUFAs in your skincare cause premature aging, just know that there are many scientific studies available out there to contradict this misinformation.
For instance, a study published by Oregon State University Micronutrient Information Center stated that topical application of sunflower oil (a PUFA, and what Perma-Earth’s organic Vitamin E is made out of) increased the linoleic acid (LA) content in the epidermis, or top most layer of skin. LA is the most abundant naturally occurring fatty acid in the epidermis and helps to support skin barrier function, and a deficiency of LA in the skin can lead to scaliness and excessive epidermal water loss. The research also stated that application of sunflower oil to skin normalized transepidermal water loss (TEWL), helping to prevent damage to the skin barrier function, and reduced skin scaliness after two weeks of daily application.
Research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences – which studied many plant oils, including PUFA oils like pomegranate, rosehip, borage, and almond – concluded that PUFA oils act synergistically when applied topically, supporting the skin barrier and antioxidant activity and promoting wound healing and anti-carcinogenic properties.
One of the biggest causes of skin aging is certainly sun exposure, but it is the reactions UV rays cause within unhealthy cells that create that damage, not high-quality PUFAs on top of the skin. As much as 80% of facial aging is attributable simply to unhealthy cells that are damaged by UV exposure alone. UVA rays can penetrate into the deep, living layers of skin and damage your DNA. Only avoiding excessive sun exposure and an unhealthy lifestyle prevents this damage.
By avoiding use of all PUFA oils, people are unfortunately actually eliminating one of the key ways to assist skin with repairing damage from sun exposure: anti-oxidants.
Bodily Functions That Need PUFAs
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are essential fatty acids that the body needs for brain function and cell growth. Our bodies do not make essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. We’ve already talked about some omega-6 fatty acids, so now let’s brush up on Omega-3 fatty acids, which include ALA, EPA, and DHA. [source]
Sources of ALA, EPA and DHA
Alpha linolenic acid is abundant in flax seed and is present in small quantities in oils like hemp, walnut, soybean and canola oil (Hunter 1990). It is mostly found in the chloroplast of green leafy vegetables.
Fish and fish oil are the richest sources of this fatty acid with contents ranging from 39% to 50% for both fresh and salt water fish (Kinsella 1990). EPA is a parent of series 3 eicosanoid hormones. EPA is also found in other animal fats.
It is present in fish oil, red brown algae, and other animal fats. It is a major brain ω-3 fatty acid and is also found in eye ball (retina). Brains are made up of about 65% fat and out of this 50% is DHA.
ALA is very sensitive to destruction by light, oxygen and heat. If not protected, it becomes toxic. It is destroyed five times faster than linoleic acid (LA, which is a type of omega-6 fat). Average intake of ω-3 fatty acids has decreased to less than 20% of what was present in common diets 150 years ago. About 95–99 % of the population gets ω-3 fatty acids lesser than that required for good health, making ω-3 fatty acids an essential nutrient and therefore the most therapeutic of all the essential nutrients (20 minerals, 14 vitamins, 8–11 amino acids, 2 fatty acids).
“All PUFAs are bad for you in any amount, whatsoever!”
But, how can an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) be “bad” for you, if it is necessary for life and basic biological functions?
How Did ALL PUFAs Get A Bad Reputation?
Although partially true, there has been a huge misunderstanding around PUFAs and their effects on human health. Somehow, ALL PUFAs have been demonized through unscientific claims or misconstrued claims by “health experts”.
These false claims put ALL PUFA oils (no matter the quality or source) as the main culprit for cancer, inflammation, aging, and more due to free-radical damage from the faster oxidation and the highly-processed inflammatory effects of these oils.
Good PUFAs vs. Bad PUFAs
Highly-processed and genetically modified PUFA oils do indeed have ill-effects on human health, especially when overconsumed (as in our American lifestyles with highly processed omega-6 oils), but this does not mean that ALL PUFAs are bad!
A Logical Fallacy:
Saying “ALL PUFAs are bad since highly-processed GMO PUFAs are bad”, is similar to saying that “ALL meat is bad since factory-farmed industrial meat is bad”.
Instead of avoiding any and all PUFAs, there needs to be a different approach. Consuming and using high-quality (organic, fresh, well-preserved, and less-processed) PUFAs in a well-balanced amount, should be the real focus of health experts and beauty companies.
This is a classic case of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. We need to stop throwing enough shade to create a black hole on PUFAS, and instead shed a little light on this essential ingredient for health and beauty from high-quality sources in the right amounts!
Choosing When & How To Include PUFAs
Considering the anti-oxidant quality of PUFAs and their necessity for healthy skin and hair, we now know that PUFAs are a must at some level of body care and beauty.
Choose high quality ingredients in moderate to small amounts, like organic, well-preserved, and cold-pressed, and steer clear of oils that lack skin supportive nutrients and those that are heavily processed, like corn, canola, and soybean oil (we never use these oils in our products).
Yes, PUFAs may be less stable than saturated fats and oxidize more easily, but freshness is key, and there are ways to keep your fats fresher longer and how to tell when a product has oxidized.
When a fat oxidizes, or becomes rancid, it can lead to congestion of the skin because of the way the chemical changes affect how it behaves. Rancidity causes fats to become more sticky and resinous. A rancid fat will not absorb well through pores and can clog the skin, forming a film across the surface. This is why care should be taken to use skincare fats that are fresh and properly handled and stored.
Fats begin to degrade when exposed to heat, light, and air. It’s best to keep skincare made with natural oils in a cool, dark place and be sure to use clean hands when handling the product. Also, look for expiration and/or manufacture dates on products and purchase from reputable manufacturers.
Perma-Earth has information about the best by date on all of their product listings in the “Expiration” item tabs.
We hope this helps to clear up any misconceptions about PUFAs and why we would dare to use them in the midst of these misunderstandings!