Dermatologists explain the benefits, side effects, and uses of linoleic acid for ance-prone skin types and more.
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Woman Applying Linoleic Acid
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Acne-prone skin and oiliness typically go hand in hand, but little did you know that there's a major difference between the two related skin concerns. While both acne-prone and oily skin types experience an excess production of sebum (aka the oil naturally produced by your skin), those who experience breakouts in addition to their oily complexion likely have "lower than normal levels of linoleic acid in the sebum," explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

This is because the absence of linoleic acid in the sebum contributes to low levels of ceramides, therefore resulting in a disrupted skin barrier that can produce breakouts. The solution? Add skin-care products with linoleic acid to your skin-care routine — simple enough.

Ahead, learn all about this magical ingredient and whether it's worth adding to your beauty cabinet.

What Is Linoleic Acid?

Linoleic acid is just a fancy name for a type of fatty acid found in your skin's oil, explains Dr. Zeichner. Specifically, it's an omega 6-fatty acid also known as vitamin F, adds Liia Ramachandra, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Epilynx. "You can get [vitamin F] from most vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds," she says.

It's also naturally found in sebum. "Sebum can really determine the health of your skin," says Dr. Ramachandra. "If the balance [or amount of linoleic acid in your skin] is not right, your body may overproduce sebum, and you may have oily skin. Linoleic is an essential fatty acid that sebaceous glands use for normal sebum production [and] actually calms the skin and follicle, and therefore [can] calm acne." (Related: Here's Why Should You Consider Using Vitamin E for Your Skin)

If your skin isn't producing adequate amounts of linoleic acid, it may show up in the form of breakouts or dry skin. Luckily, you can also find it in skin-care and personal products where it functions as an "emollient or thickening agent," says Nkem Ugonabo M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-chair of the Skin of Color Society's technology and media committee. ICYDK, research has shown that emollients are substances that retain moisture and protect the skin from irritants.

Benefits of Linoleic Acid for Skin

Due to its emollient properties, linoleic acid has hydrating, softening, and protective benefits, says Dr. Zeichner. "Linoleic acid is really a miracle ingredient for your skin," adds Dr. Ramachandra. "It provides moisture and plumpness." (Related: Why Jojoba Oil Is the Only Oil You Should Be Using On Your Face)

In addition to an increase in moisture, one of the biggest benefits of linoleic acid or vitamin F for skin is its ability to maintain and strengthen the skin barrier, explains Dr. Ugonabo. To reiterate, the skin barrier is the outermost layer of skin responsible for keeping the good things (such as moisture) in and keeping the bad things (such as pollution or allergens) out, according to the Indian Journal of Medical Research.

"[Lineoleic acid] is a precursor for the development of ceramides, which are [beneficial] natural fats that fill in cracks in the outer skin layer and maintain a healthy skin barrier," affirms Dr. Zeichner. The best part? Research and experts haven't reported negative side effects of the ingredient. "Linoleic acid is non-irritating and can be used as a topical ingredient across all skin types," explains Dr. Zeichner.

Skin Types That Would Benefit Most from Linoleic Acid

All skin types can add linoleic acid into their routines, but those with dry or acne-prone skin may find the ingredient particularly helpful. "Those with irritated, inflamed, or dry skin would benefit from the addition of linoleic acid in their skin-care routine to add moisture, calm inflammation, and potentially help improve their overall skin barrier," says Dr. Ugonabo.

Even if the cause of your acne isn't due to low levels of linoleic acid, the ingredient is still great for breakout-prone skin because it has anti-inflammatory properties that help control acne, says Dr. Ramachandra.

Linoleic acid can also help prevent breakouts by providing the skin with the necessary ceramides it needs for a healthy skin barrier, says Dr. Zeichner. "Studies have shown that worse acne is associated with lower levels of ceramide levels," he says. Other evidence shows that "a deficiency in linoleic acid may contribute" to the development of acne, affirms Dr. Ugonabo.

How to Incorporate Linoleic Acid Into Your Routine

If the benefits of linoleic acid sound intriguing, you'll be happy to know that you can find a variety of cleansers, serums, and face moisturizers with the ingredient. "It's safe to use twice a day, as needed," says Dr. Ugonabo. "I would start with a patch test to make sure you are not sensitive to linoleic acid or any other ingredients in the product." A patch test is when you apply a small amount of a skin-care product to an inconspicuous area on the face and let it sit for about 48 hours to determine if any irritation or reaction occurs.

You can also find acne treatments with the ingredient, such as the Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer, which works double duty to prevent and treat breakouts while reducing shine and blurring the pores, explains Dr. Zeichner. "It can be used on its own or under makeup every day without irritating [the skin]."

Ultimately, linoleic acid might be the underrated powerhouse ingredient you're missing in your skin-care routine. If you have any questions or concerns about linoleic acid for your skin, it's best to consult with a dermatologist to get specific advice for your skin type.