Balancing Dietary Fats

Emblem for Skin Support Module - Balancing Dietary Fat Intake to Improve Skin Surface pH and Improve Skin Health

Executive Summary

Reducing intake of monounsaturated and saturated fats can enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of a diet rich in omega 3s and potentially reduce the amount oleic acid present in the sebum; leading to improved skin barrier function and sebum composition.


There are several main types of fats that are a part of a typical diet:

  • Polyunsaturated fats – omega 3s and 6s
  • Monounsaturated fats – omega 7s and 9s
  • Saturated fats

A significant part of this program has focused on ways to improve the important balance between omega 3s and omega 6s, which is important for more balanced immune function and inflammation.

Another important balance of dietary fats relates to monounsaturated and saturated fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats have gained significant popularity in the modern diet and are often referred to as healthy fats, people do not often consider limiting their intake
  • Saturated fats have long been associated with a variety of negative health outcomes and many individuals make conscious effort to reduce their intake

The most prominent monounsaturated fatty acid found in the modern diet is oleic acid. Unlike essential fatty acids, dietary intake of oleic acid is not considered essential as it can be efficiently synthesized within the body.

The following oils have some of the highest oleic acid content:

  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • High oleic safflower oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Almond oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Avocados

Saturated fat on the other hand primarily comes from animal sources. It is also not considered essential as the body can effectively synthesize it. The most abundant saturated fatty acids are palmitic and stearic acids.

Taken together, a diet rich in both monounsaturated and saturated fats, can lead to increased oleic acid availability (palmitic and stearic acid are easily converted to oleic acid).

This may not seem that bad at first, but in the presence of a PUFA deficiency (either due abnormal conversion or overall deficiency) the skin has been shown to utilize oleic acid in it’s place. And increase oleic acid in the sebum has been shown to lead to abnormal skin barrier function [1, 2, 3, 4].

Free Oleic Fatty Acids are at the Core of Seborrheic Dermatitis Symptoms
In susceptible individuals, oleic acid application directly to the skin surface has been shown to trigger the primary symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, irrespective of malassezia yeast presence [5].

Documented Benefits

A reduced intake of monounsaturated fat was associated with [6]:

  • Improved skin surface pH (critical factor in epidermal barrier stability)
  • Improved skin hydration

While, a reduced intake of saturated fat has been associated with:

  • Improved effect of high omega 3 diets [7]
  • Improved cholesterol levels [8]
  • Reduced risk of atopic conditions of infants [9]
  • Reduce the risk of metabolism disease [10]

Why It’s Important for Inflammatory Skin Disease

Characteristics most important for individuals affected by inflammatory skin disorders:

  • Reduced levels of oleic acid in sebum
  • Lowered skin surface pH

Expected improvements:

  • Improved sebum composition
  • Improve skin barrier function

Ideas for Easier Integration

  • When shopping for meat products emphasis should be on quality rather then quality; smaller portions of high quality meat products are likely fare more beneficial then large portions of low quality meat.
  • Simply reducing your intake of packaged foods can have a significant impact on overall fat consumption; many packaged food products utilize added fat to improve “mouth feel”
  • Eating at home and utilizing whole foods as much as possible is a straightforward way to achieve lower fat intake
  • If eating how, avoid deep fried foods and high in added fats; if ordering a salad, you can usually ask for dressing on the side allowing you to limit how much is used

Additional Notes

  • Vitamin A has been shown to reduce the negative effects of oleic acid at the skin surface [11]
  • Intake of both saturated fats and monounsaturated fats appears to have a direct inverse relationship with skin hydration
  • Another finding from the above study was that. This means that if PUFA (polyunsaturated fats) are kept stable, increasing dietary saturated and/or monounsaturated will reduce skin hydration; another important factor in epidermal stability.
  • Oils rich in monounsaturated fats are commonly used in a variety of packaged (convenience) foods and restaurants
  • There is not enough evidence to suggest that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, while evidence does exist for replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats [12]
  • Many people report skin improvement by supplementing with coconut oil (an oil very high in saturated fats). Perhaps part of this phenomenon can be attributed to a likely parallel reduction in other sources of saturated and monounsaturated fats, plus the fact that the majority of the fats in coconut oil can not be converted by the body to oleic acid
  • One specific finding in this area is that dietary monounsaturated fat appears to have one of the significant negative impacts on skin surface pH . As you will learn later in this program, skin surface pH plays a critical role in skin barrier function.

Objective Summary

In conclusion, the main goal of this objective is to reduce the relative amount of dietary monounsaturated fats. While at the same time, keeping PUFA’s (omega 3s and 6s) in balance and overfall fat intake stable.