This post contains affiliate links. Please read our affiliate disclosure policy.
There has been a lot of talk in the health and wellness world regarding polyunsaturated oils (PUFAs). A lot of this talk stems from extensive research Dr. Ray Peat has shared regarding the consumption of these polyunsaturated vegetable oils and why he says, they are hazardous to our health. The vegetable oils that he mainly refers to are soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, sesame oil, sunflower seed oil, palm oil, and any others that are labeled as "unsaturated" or "polyunsaturated,” but he also speaks of fish and algae oils. Chemically, the material that he says makes these oils toxic when consumed is the polyunsaturated fat itself. There are two major classes of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are essential fatty acids (EFA’s) that our body cannot make on its own. This is a very controversial topic because for years we have been told that we need to consume these oils in abundance for optimal brain function and cell growth, yet Dr. Ray Peat claims that any consumption of these types of fatty acids cause oxidation in the body that lead to inflammation, thyroid issues, cancer, premature aging, metabolic imbalance, and a whole slew of other health problems.
Like I said, EFAs are types of fatty acids that the body cannot make so the only way to attain them is from food and they do exist in virtually all foods so we do receive them in trace amounts even if we are not purposely taking them. On the other hand, the body does make saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids because it needs these in large amounts and cannot count on getting all it needs from food.
Personally, when new information is brought to my attention, I look at the history and ask myself two questions: What did my ancestors do? And what is natural? Most of our ancestors ate stable, healthy, saturated fats to nourish and protect their bodies, but in recent years, these healthy, stable fats have been demonized and only omega 3's have been encouraged - most of which have been industrialized, genetically modified, commercially developed and contain very high levels of polyunsaturates. Yes, there are many ancestral diets of people living in extreme latitudes that ate diets composed primarily of polyunsaturated fats found in fish and even seals and whales for the Intuit people for example but the lack of other food and the cold climate also played a role in their bodies ability to beneficially use these fats for energy in a healthy way.
So what about topical application of seed oils? The oils that we use in our skincare products are not the ones listed above (some companies do though) but some of the natural seed oils we use do have high contents of PUFAs. However, unlike the modern invention of industrial seed/vegetable oils, these skincare oils have been used since ancient times and in almost every ancient civilization for healing and nourishing the skin. All of our formulas at The Golden Secrets are based on this ancient wisdom. The oils we use have stood the test of time in regard to their healing abilities when used topically. Their nutrient-dense properties have the ability to heal an array of skin conditions and help keep your skin looking young and youthful. There is a tendency to bulk all PUFA oils as bad, and that is exactly why I felt the need to write this article. First and foremost, the plant by which the oil is being extracted matters most. Is it for internal or external use? What is the process by which the oil is attained? There are different ways to obtain plant oils: cold-pressed plant oils have better nutritive properties than those that have undergone the refining process. This is because the cold-pressing procedure does not involve heat or chemical treatments, which may alter their composition and therapeutic effects. Lastly, what are the known, unbiased benefits and history of its use? I will share more on topical application later, but for now let's get back to the consumption of industrial seed oils.
Industrial seed oils represent an evolutionary mismatch as they have only been recently introduced (1900's) into our diet. They are not ancestral foods. In fact, industrial seed oils, the highly processed oils extracted from soybeans, corn, rapeseed (the source of canola oil), cottonseed, and safflower seeds, were only introduced into the American diet in the early 1900s. They became prevalent in the food industry in the 1960s as a cheap, highly processed fat sold to us as a healthier, better option. Not only that, many of them are derived from genetically modified crops, processed with chemicals and repeatedly heated and completely distorted to the point where they release free radicals into our system. This was all orchestrated by Procter & Gamble whose main goal was to utilize their over-production of a waste product from cotton farming, cottonseed oil “Crisco.” With proper marketing they were able to convince people to forgo butter and lard for cheap, factory-made oils loaded with trans fat. The two true secret weapons for convincing the American public to switch to Crisco were cheaper prices and unregulated health claims. Procter & Gamble spent a lot of money to convince shoppers that this product was much healthier and better for them than animal fats. They even got an endorsement from the American Heart Association (AHA) with a $1.5 million donation. The American Heart Association (AHA) wrote the world’s first official recommendations in 1961 recommending that we “reduce intake of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and increase intake of polyunsaturated fats." In other word, avoid animal fat and eat ‘heart-healthy’ vegetable oils, high in polyunsaturated fats, like Crisco. This advice carried forward to the influential 1977 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also recommended that Americans switch from saturated fats to hydrogenated oils.
It is so hard to know what to believe anymore and what the truth is, but it seems like if you follow the money, the truth will be revealed.
Let’s get back to breaking down oils and their fatty acid profiles so that you can better understand them and make the decision that is best for you.
There are two main types of fats: unstable, unsaturated fatty acids and stable, saturated fatty acids. Unstable fatty acids include polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats; i.e. PUFAs, which contain more than one double bond in their backbone making them unstable and more prone to oxidation, especially in light and heat. Our bodies warm blooded environment is the perfect environment for these oils to oxidize after ingestion. Stable fats include saturated fats which are stable under heat, this means that their chemical structure does not change under heat. Something to think about.
You can easily look up an oils fatty acid profile to see what % of fats it has. Here are some common fatty acids in each category:
- Polyunsaturated-Linolenic- (omega-6), eicosapentaenoic, and docosahexaenoic (omega-3)
- Monounsaturated- oleic (omega-9), palmitoleic
- Saturated- lauric, myristic, plamitic, stearic
When we want to dive deeper into this topic and hear the side that has been in the shadows, nobody says it better than Dr. Ray Peat.
“The food-derived polyunsaturated fatty acids play important roles in the development of all of the problems associated with aging -reduced immunity, insomnia, decreased learning ability, substitution of fat for muscle, susceptibility to tissue per-oxidation and inflammation, growth of tumors, etc., and are probably involved in most other health problems, even in children. If research hadn't been guided by the economic interests of the seed oil industry, many of those problems would have been solved by now.
Saturated fatty acids terminate the stress reactions, polyunsaturated fatty acids amplify them.
The most highly unsaturated fats, including DHA, accumulate with aging, and their toxic fragments are increased in Alzheimer's disease.
The most highly unsaturated fats found in fish oil break down into chemicals that block the use of glucose and oxygen.
The ratio of saturated fatty acids to polyunsaturated fatty acids is decreased in cancer. Omega-3 fats promote metastasis.”
Through my research on Dr. Ray Peat, I stumbled upon Matt Blackburn. Matt Blackburn does a fabulous job of breaking down Dr. Ray Peat’s wisdom into a digestible format. He is also the founder of MITOLIFE supplements (use code: BEGOLDEN), which supports much of Dr. Ray Peats theories.
I do have to say, as someone living with a chronic disease, I have had to stay open and adaptable to new treatments, diets, supplements and ways of mind. You name it, I have tried it. I have recently adapted much of what Dr. Ray Peat shares about diet and have supplemented with MITOLIFE Vitamin E and C and almost all of the inflammation I had is gone. Being mostly plant-based for the majority of my life, I had a very high omega-3 diet along with a high oxalate diet from all the vegetables I would consume. I thought having a diet high in omega- 3's would help with the inflammation in my body, but knowing what I know and feel now, I was actually creating an abundant of oxidative damage and excessive inflammation in my body. The complete opposite of what we have been told, not only in the mainstream narrative but in the holistic health world too.
I wanted to share an excerpt from Matt Blackburn’s MITOLIFE website where he explains this concept more in depth:
In order of most unstable to most stable: highly unsaturated fatty acids (omega-3s) -> polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3s and 6s) -> monounsaturated fat -> saturated fat -> cholesterol
We have been programmed to fear animal fats and praise the fats in nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and soy. The fact is that it is the animal foods that are responsible for growth and development and they are predominately saturated.
WHEN OMEGA-3's BECOME DEADLY
It is one thing to consume a small amount of nuts and seeds (NOT nut "butters" and nut "milks") when the majority of your diet consists of stable life-supporting saturated fat. It is another to consume extracts of PUFA's, namely: algae oil, fish oil, krill oil, seal oil, fatty salmon oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, olive oil, peanut oil, etc.
When we consume these in multiple grams on a daily basis for years (for example, our entire lives up until today), in combination with retinol (vitamin A) deficiency and excess iron stored in our tissues, we get surprise diagnoses of all of the diseases listed above.
Do NOT supplement with omega-3 concentrates or cook with vegetable oils. Unfermented, unfortified cod liver oil is the exception because of retinol's (vitamin A) powerful role in protecting against lipid peroxidation. It also contains MUFA and SFAs to balance out the PUFAs.
The average consumer would be shocked to learn how many restaurant establishments cook in vegetable oil. Even if the meal contains a lot of saturated fat, if the food is cooked in inflammatory omega-3 vegetable oils, you will experience a net loss in your overall health.
THE SCARY PART
Not only do PUFAs wreak havoc on our system immediately upon digestion, blocking the ability of normal cellular metabolism and shifting it towards a cancer-promoting metabolism, but they are stored in the tissues.
Under stress (when our blood sugar isn't stable, when we skip meals, when we get cut off in traffic, when we get into an argument with our partner, when we're over-exercising, when we're under slept, when we're exposed to harmful electromagnetic fields) the cortisol begins to breakdown our tissues for energy and PUFAs are released into our bloodstream.
Once in the blood they circulate for many hours, suppressing our metabolism. Think about which organisms contain high levels of omega-3s: cold water fish like wild Alaskan salmon. Their tissues have to be made of high levels of these unsaturated fats to be able to even move their muscles in the frigid temperatures. But you aren't a fish in cold water; you're a human with a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do you have cold hands and feet? Thyroid problems? Anxiety? Stubborn body fat? Did you know that "essential" fatty acids became popular when farmers discovered that they can slow the metabolism of their livestock and fatten them up? Fatter animals means more money that they get at the market when they sell their meat. Guess what? Excess PUFA's make you fat too!
Vitamin E is a major lipid soluble antioxidant that scavenges free radicals and generated by lipid peroxidation of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and prevents oxidation, not only in skincare but in your body. It is recommend to supplement with a good Vitamin E if you, like many of us, have been on a high PUFA diet most of your life.
Vitamin E intake should increase with the consumption of Polyunsaturated fats.
The primary way that PUFAs break down healthy tissue is by depleting them of Vitamin E.
Vitamin E was discovered in 1922 by H.M. Evans and K.S. Bishop. It is one of the major fat soluble vitamins that are required for vital health along with vitamin A, D, and K. Of those four vitamins, vitamin E is the hardest to find.
Here is a link to the MITOLIFE Vitamin E and C I have been taking. Use code: BEGOLDEN to save.
Now let’s get back to skincare and skin health and why some oils high in PUFAs still might be the best option for topical application. Studies argue that skin that lacks PUFAs will have a compromised barrier and therefore, be more susceptible to premature skin-aging. This is because certain PUFAs contribute to the formation of ceramides (naturally occurring lipid), which help to improve the skin's barrier, promote collagen and some even have photo-protective properties that reduce UV-related skin-aging.
The most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) in human skin is the 18-carbon fatty acid, LA (4). There is good evidence indicating that one functional role of LA is its involvement in the maintenance of the epidermal water barrier. In fact acne patients have also been shown to have low levels of linoleic acid in their skin surface lipids, meaning when they add PUFA oils to their skincare regimen, their acne clears up. The presence of LA in SC ceramides directly correlates with permeability barrier function of the skin.
Linoleic acid has a direct role in maintaining the integrity of the water permeability barrier of the skin [46,47]. The major metabolite of linoleic acid in the skin is 13-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid (13-HODE), which possesses anti-proliferative properties . In contrast, oleic acid is detrimental to skin barrier function . Oleic acid causes barrier disruption and eventually induces dermatitis under continuous topical application .
One of our favorite PUFA oils is pomegranate with high levels of punicic acid (omega-5), referred to as the "Fruit Of Life" and known for promoting flawless skin. It boosts collagen production, enhances skin elasticity, reduces the appearance of scarring, and increases the reversal of skin damage, but it goes beyond vanity.
A study of CD1 mice with topically applied pomegranate seed oil has shown that pomegranate seed oil (5%) significantly decreased tumor incidence and 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced ornithine decarboxylase activity in the chemical-induced skin cancer model. The results highlighted the potential of pomegranate seed oil as a chemopreventive agent against skin cancer .
Furthermore, according to scientific data, the "oxidation and degradation" of PUFA in human sebum actually initiates an important chain of events that gives sebum its powerful anti-microbial properties.
"Ge et al. identified stearoyl-CoA Δ-6 desaturase as the major fatty acid desaturase in human sebaceous glands, which induces rapid oxidation and degradation of linoleic acid and its derivatives in sebaceous gland cells. Due to the rapid degradation of linoleic acid in the sebaceous cells, stearoyl-CoA Δ-6 desaturase is able to convert palmitic acid into sapienic acid...Sapienic acid exerts strong antibacterial and antifungal activities."
So what do we look for in skincare?
Let’s break it down into three categories; saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated (see lists below) saturated fats (like coconut oil) are solid at room temperature. They are considered very stable with a very long shelf life. They have all their hydrogen in their links and are heat stable but the downside is most are comedogenic, which can often cause breakouts, clogged pores and milia to those with sensitive skin. Polyunsaturated fats are less stable but are known to clear up acne, inflammation and signs of aging.
People with acne usually have a deficiency of the polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic acid) in their skin so adding it to their skincare routine often gives them clearer skin within the first week. Low levels of linoleic acid also produces impairment of the epidermal barrier function, which might account for increased permeability of comedonal wall to inflammatory substances.
A nice balance in fatty acid profile, with a predominance in saturated and monounsaturated fats is ideal for daytime when you could be exposed to excessive light and heat. This is something to keep in mind because unfortunately many organic, mineral, sunscreens are made with highly unstable oils like hemp, safflower, argan, and grape seed, which when exposed to heat could actually age your skin and cause those very sun spots (lipid peroxidation) you are trying to avoid. A nice balance in fatty acid profile with a predominance in polyunsaturated (linoleic acid) and monounsaturated fats at night is ideal to increase overall skin health. Our Youth Beauty Face Oil has been meticulously formulated with the perfect ratio of essential, non-essential fatty acids (linoleic and oleic acid) and the powerful antioxidant, Vitamin E to give your skin all the nutrients it needs for optimal results without clogging your pores.
If you know you are going to be exposed to the sun or heat, choose oils that are lower in PUFAs. For example, our Aphrodisiac & Goddess are carried in Coconut and Jojoba oils, two of the best plant oils with low PUFA ratings. Plus, like all of our oils, contains the antioxidant Vitamin E, quite possibly the best nutrient to prevent oxidation and aging on the skin and counteract any other oils that may have a higher PUFA rating. Coconut oil alone however, may not be the best option for your face. It has a fairly high comedogenic rating that can clog pores and cause breakouts. Alone, it can also alter the microbiome of your skin and damage the function of the skin’s barrier. I also do not recommend using this as an internal lubrication as it has natural antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties that can destroy your healthy flora. Organic olive oil is a better option for this. However; topically, olive oil has a high content of comedogenic oleic acid so it is best used in a formulated blend with other balancing oils like our Womb Wisdom- an incredibly effective, organic, stable blend of saturated oils that safeguard your skin from damage and quickly melt deep into the skin’s layers creating a protective barrier that seals in moisture.
We want oils that deeply penetrate the skin and prevent aging. For instance, our Heal All Oil comes from Polynesia and is a deeply nourishing oil prized for its rich fatty acid content readily available for skin absorption. Extracted from the nut kernels of the Tamanu fruit, this botanical oil is high in fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) are the major constituents (41–52%) with a relative high proportion of stearic acid (25–35%) and unsaturated fatty acids (18–22%). It also has calophyllic acid and calophyllolides which function as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents along with delta-tocotrienol (a form of Vit E) as well as several antioxidants. It has a comedogenic rating of 2, meaning it's possibly one of the best oils for oily skin, clogged pores and acne.
Several studies have now been conducted into Tamanu oil’s protective abilities including one published in 2007 that demonstrated that it had a solar protection factor up to 18-22. (3) The researchers were able to show that even in concentrations as low as 1%, Tamanu oil could protect against 85% of the DNA damage inflicted by the sun.
An easy way to tell if an oil oxidizes quickly is its origin. In general, tropical oils are unlikely to be damaged by UV radiation (this is as a result of evolving near the equator) and are light and sun stable. Many tropical plants also bare oils that can not only withstand heat but counteract oxidation in the skin. They are more stable in heat and sun because that is their native environment. The process by which oils are obtained is just as important. Most seed oils can only be extracted through a very complicated industrial process involving high heat, and extreme pressure, which cause more oxidation and more free radical damage. All of our oils are cold-pressed, unrefined and unlike many fractionated coconut oils- ours are produced 100% from organic coconuts, which is highly stable and resistant to oxidation.
For instance, not all sunflower oil is created equal. High-oleic sunflower oil made from sunflower seeds that have been bred to be high in oleic acid (a monounsaturated fatty acid) and low in linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated fatty acid). There is a minimum of 80% oleic acid in high-oleic sunflower oil. In comparison, traditional sunflower oil (mid oleic & linoleic) which has less oleic acid at around 20%.
Just like the process by which an oil is harvested, and the precise formulation, the packaging is just as important and something to keep in mind the next time you shop for skincare. We package all of our products in opaque, amber, glass bottles for a reason- to maintain freshness and efficacy. We recommend that you keep your bottles stored in a cool, dry, dark place, tightly closed in between use to prevent oxidation. When stored properly, all of our oils are good for up to one year after opening. Be weary of skincare products stored in clear glass and/or plastic containers. Clear glass does not protect the formula from light, which in natural products without preservatives could go rancid, and if there are any essential oils or actives in the formula, they could eat away at the plastic and release estrogenic chemicals that will end up on your skin and in your bloodstream. The goal is to have oils that are minimally processed with no toxic preservatives. Remember, preservatives keep products on the shelf longer, not your skin.
Our bottom line:
At TGS we believe in real, natural, ancestral foods, organic skincare, ancient wisdom, and Mother Nature. We do not agree with vilifying some of Mother Natures most bountiful, nutrient-dense resources. We believe in all of her gifts, in a mindful, balanced way and have seen first hand how healing they can be when used properly. We do not encourage you to abruptly eliminate all polyunsaturated fats from your diet. Instead, we encourage you to become more aware of the sources of polyunsaturated fats you may be consuming without even knowing it and maybe replacing them with a combination of saturated fat, protein and carbohydrates that are sustainable for you. Most importantly, trust your instinct and your body- both in its cravings, skin appearance and in the biofeedback it gives you. I hope that this article shed some light for you.
Here are some examples of (PUFAs) Polyunsaturated oils:
Black cumin seed
Evening primrose oil
Flaxseed oil (linseed)
Pomegranate seed oil
Pumkin seed oil
Red raspberry seed oil
Rosehip seed oil
Sunflower oil (Mid Oleic & Linoleic)
These oils are highest in polyunsaturated fats and would personally never use on my skin:
Flaxseed oil (Linseed)
Monounsaturated oils have only one place, or double bond, at which oxygen can react- making oxidation a billion of times less likely to occur.
Examples of Monounsaturated oils (MUFA) include:
Saturated oils include: