Palmitoleic acid and Skin

What is Palmitoleic Acid?

Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid with one double bond (C16:1).  The double bond means that it will go rancid more quickly than some of the saturated fatty acids such as Palmitic or Stearic acid.  It will last longer than the polyunsaturated fatty acids like linoleic or gamma-linoleic fatty acids. It is also known as an Omega-7 fatty acid.

How does Palmitoleic Acid Help Our Skin?

Recently Omega-7 has become the darling of the skin care industry.   Little was known about it but we’ve discovered that palmitoleic acid is one of the basic building blocks in our skin and helps to prevent wounds, scratches and burns.  It is found in both the sebum and in our fatty tissues.  It is the most active anti-microbial in sebum and helps wounds from getting infected.  Palmitoleic acid production in our skin declines as we get older, but by topically applying palmitoleic acid, we can help mature or dry skin with staying moisturized and supple.  We also enhance the anti-microbial action of our sebum.  Palmitoleic acid has anti-oxidant properties and can also offer some protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Palmitoleic acid is particularly good at healing mucous membranes which line the nose, throat, gastrointestinal track and female urinary tract and genital areas.  This has promising implications both when taken internally and when applied topically to mucous membranes.  And some research has shown that palmitoleic acid has a role in the oxidation of fats and that it could be helpful in the fight against obesity.

What Oils are High in Palmitoleic Acid?

We can get palmitoleic acid in a variety of foods including marine oils, vegetable oils and animal oils.

Some of the oils high in Palmitoleic acid include:sea buckthorn

  • Sea buckthorn oil (36%) Has a shelf life of about 1 year
  • Macadamia nut oil (20%) Has a shelf life of about 1 year
  • Jojoba oil (2%) Has a shelf life of about 2 years
  • Sweet almond oil (2%) Has a shelf life of about 1 year

How our skin uses fatty acids

Earlier we took a look at what fatty acids are and how little about how the skin functions and what its main purpose is.  Today we’ll take a look at how fatty acids are used in the skin.  Let’s just refresh our memories about the most wonderful of organs: skin.  Skin has a lot of things it needs to do and some of them seem contradictory.  It needs to keep things out, it needs to keep things in, and it needs to let things pass.  That’s a lot of functions!  The only way our skin can get all of these competing tasks done is to be flexible, literally.  Skin needs to retain moisture, and be soft and flexible.  You don’t need to be a doctor to be able to decipher what is healthy skin and what is not.  We’re hard wired to appreciate beautiful skin because beautiful skin is healthy skin.  You know that if you’re looking at hard, cracked, dry skin, that it’s not healthy.

So how can fatty acids help our skin?

We produce many fatty acids internally that are used throughout our system.  In fact there are only two that we don’t and they are known as the essential fatty acids (EFA).  The EFAs are Omega 3  alpha-linolenic acid and Omega 6 linoleic acid.  We need to nourish our skin from the inside and the outside.  So depending on what we are eating and how well we are taking care of ourselves, hopefully we are producing fatty acids internally.  But we can (and should) also apply them topically to help our skin.
I’ve taken a look at the basic functions that skin needs to perform and tried to classify some of the most common acids by how they can help the skin.  This is just my classification, so take that bit of information and do with it what you will.  In order for skin to be healthy and to function properly it needs to do three basic things: (1) create an effective barrier; (2) prevent damage to the skin; and (3) repair damage to the skin.  In truth each acid performs a broad range of functions in helping our skin, so this is not to say that just because an acid isn’t listed under a certain category that it doesn’t perform that function.  Based on these three parameters, I’ve classified several of the fatty acids as follows:

  • Assists barrier function- keep bad stuff out, keeps moisture and good stuff in and allows appropriate things to pass through the skin
    • Palmitic acid (forms occlusive layer)
    • Palmitoleic acid (antimicrobial)
    • CLA (antimicrobial, improve epidermal differentiation)
    • Stearic acid (flexibility and moisture retention)
    • Linoleic acid (provides moisture, lack of it leads to dry skin, scaling and acne)
    • Oleic acid (moisturizing, softening, anti-inflammatory)
    • Gamma Linoleic acid (anti-inflammatory)
    • Lauric acid (antifungal and antibacterial)
    • Myristic acid (provides moisture, links proteins that form outer layer of skin)
  • Prevents damage
    • Palmitoleic acid (prevents burns, wounds and scratches)
  • Repairs damage
    • Stearic acid (flexibility)
    • Linoleic acid (lack of it leads to poor wound healing)
    • Oleic acid (regenerating- aids with collagen and elastin)
    • Gamma Linoleic acid (repairs skin barrier, helps reverse epidermal hyperproliferation)
    • CLA (elasticity, reduce inflammation, lighten skin)
    • Myristic acid (regulates skin cell regeneration)

Tomorrow we’ll start to look at each individual fatty acid a little closer and learn about what types of oils contain which types of acids.

Fatty Acids and How They Help Our Skin

This will be the first in a series of blogs on fatty acids and how they are fundamental to healthy skin.  Lucky for us, we can get fatty acids two ways: we can eat them in our foods and we can apply them directly on our skin.  First let’s look at fatty acids.

What are fatty acids?

Fatty acids are considered to be “good” fats and are used by mitochondria in our cells for energy.  We need them in our diets for several reasons including cell membrane development and healthy functioning of our organs and tissue.  They are therefore essential in keeping our skin healthy.  There are many different categorizations of fatty acids including: saturated vs. unsaturated, the length of the chain of fatty acids; and if they are essential (meaning that we cannot produce them).  We can produce all of the fatty acids we need within our own bodies except for two fatty acids (the essential fatty acids).

Essential Fatty Acids Overview

The two essential fatty acids which we cannot adequately manufacture within the human body because we lack the enzymes are alpha-linolenic acid (Omega 3 fatty acids) and linoleic acid (Omega 6 fatty acids).  Oils rich in Omega 6 fatty acids include grapeseed oil, palm kernel oil, evening primrose oil, pumpkin seed oil and sesame oil.  Generally we think of foods rich in Omega 3 being fish or seafood, but there are some plants, such as hempseed or flax, that are also sources of it.

Classifications of fatty acids

fatty acids
Fatty acids are classified according to the length of their chains into one of the following four categories: short chain, medium chain, long chain and very long chain fatty acids. The determining factor is how long the aliphatic tails are in the acid.

Fatty acids are also broken down into whether they are saturated or unsaturated fatty acids.  Unsaturated fatty acids have more than one double bond between carbon atoms whereas saturated fatty acids have no double bonds.  These double bonds make unsaturated fatty acids more prone to rancidity.

Saturated Fatty Acids:

  • Behenic acid
  • Lauric aid
  • Myristic acid
  • Palmitic acid
  • Stearic acid

Unsaturated Fatty Acids:

  • Alpha Linolenic acid
  • Erucic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Oleic acid
  • Palmitoleic acid

The Skin

And now let’s turn our attention to the skin, the most wonderful of organs.  The skin is not only our largest organ, it also has a very complex job.  It must both provide a barrier (keeping bad stuff out and good stuff in) and behave as a passage (allowing bad stuff out and good stuff in).  What do I mean by this?

Barrier function of skin

  1. Keep good stuff in:  skin must hold in all of our blood, organs, fat, moisture, and basically anything that should be contained in the human body.  It helps reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
  2. Keep bad stuff out: skin in our first line of defense in keeping out harmful bacteria, viruses, fungus, chemicals, and pathogens.  If they can break the skin barrier, then our systems need to work hard to fight them off or we get sick.  It’s much easier to keep them out in the first place.

Passage function of skin:

  1. Let in the good stuff: skin must allow things like moisture, oxygen, nutrients, and sunlight (to make vitamin D) in through our skin in order for us to function properly.
  2. Let out the bad stuff: skin must allow things like our sweat, toxins, and other waste product to be expelled out of the skin.  It’s the body’s way of cooling and cleansing and necessary to our health.

Human skin is comprised of fatty acids in varying amounts.  Here’s one table I found breaking them down (but I can’t vouche for the veracity of this table):

  • Oleic acid- 30.8%
  • Palmitic acid- 20.2%
  • Linoleic acid- 15.1%
  • Stearic acid- 11.2%
  • Palmitoleic acid- 3.8%
  • Myristic acid- 2.1%
  • Linolenic acid- 0.3%

So we can see that skin has a very complicated job indeed!  How does it both create a barrier and a passage way letting things in and out and keeping things in and out?  In order to do this, skin must be flexible, soft, supple and healthy.  It does this by utilizing fatty acids to create a flexible barrier that can also prevent and repair any damage to the skin.  Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how fatty acids help the skin.