Flax Seeds for Sensitive Skin

Flax Seeds for Sensitive Skin
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Instead of treating sensitive skin topically, with lotions and creams, why not treat it from the inside out—with diet?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

About half of the American population says they have sensitive skin, defined loosely as “tingling, chafing, burning,” itching sensations when exposed to various environmental factors. A similar high prevalence has been reported throughout Japan and Europe—especially in women.

Often, there are no obvious signs, and, so, it’s often been dismissed dismissed by the medical community as a “princess and the pea” phenomenon—a mindset that has hindered the investigation of this problem.

But, now, it’s largely “recognized as a genuine phenomenon of physiological origin,” thought to arise from an “alteration of the skin barrier allowing potentially irritating substances to penetrate the skin and generate an inflammatory reaction.”

Okay, so, what can we do about it? Well, recently, supplementation of flax seed oil was found to diminish skin sensitivity and improve skin barrier function and condition.  In a randomized, double-blind, 12-week study, women were given about a half teaspoon of flax seed oil a day—internally—versus safflower oil, as a control. That’s the amount of oil found in about a teaspoon and a half of flax seeds.

After three months, there was a significant decrease in skin reddening in the flax group compared to the safflower group, when an irritant chemical was painted on their forearms to measure skin sensitivity. Their skin also ended up significantly better hydrated, had significantly better barrier function—as evidenced by lower transepidermal water loss—skin that’s less rough; less scaly; and smoother. You can actually see the changes in a close-up view of the skin. Skin looked pretty much just as dry and scaly before and after the safflower oil intervention, but significantly improved after flax seed oil.

Sensitive skin is typically treated by topical application of lotion and creams. But, why not treat it from the inside? “This study showed that daily supplementation with flax seed oil improved skin appearance and led to a decreased skin sensitivity by improving epidermal barrier function and decreasing inflammation…”

The best source of flax seed oil is within the flax seed itself, right?  Then, you get all the nutrition of the whole food, and it’s cheaper and more stable. Unlike the oil, you can bake with the seeds without destroying the omega-3s, and can even store ground flax seed for a month, at room temperature, without spoilage or oxidation.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to stevendepolo via flickr

 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

About half of the American population says they have sensitive skin, defined loosely as “tingling, chafing, burning,” itching sensations when exposed to various environmental factors. A similar high prevalence has been reported throughout Japan and Europe—especially in women.

Often, there are no obvious signs, and, so, it’s often been dismissed dismissed by the medical community as a “princess and the pea” phenomenon—a mindset that has hindered the investigation of this problem.

But, now, it’s largely “recognized as a genuine phenomenon of physiological origin,” thought to arise from an “alteration of the skin barrier allowing potentially irritating substances to penetrate the skin and generate an inflammatory reaction.”

Okay, so, what can we do about it? Well, recently, supplementation of flax seed oil was found to diminish skin sensitivity and improve skin barrier function and condition.  In a randomized, double-blind, 12-week study, women were given about a half teaspoon of flax seed oil a day—internally—versus safflower oil, as a control. That’s the amount of oil found in about a teaspoon and a half of flax seeds.

After three months, there was a significant decrease in skin reddening in the flax group compared to the safflower group, when an irritant chemical was painted on their forearms to measure skin sensitivity. Their skin also ended up significantly better hydrated, had significantly better barrier function—as evidenced by lower transepidermal water loss—skin that’s less rough; less scaly; and smoother. You can actually see the changes in a close-up view of the skin. Skin looked pretty much just as dry and scaly before and after the safflower oil intervention, but significantly improved after flax seed oil.

Sensitive skin is typically treated by topical application of lotion and creams. But, why not treat it from the inside? “This study showed that daily supplementation with flax seed oil improved skin appearance and led to a decreased skin sensitivity by improving epidermal barrier function and decreasing inflammation…”

The best source of flax seed oil is within the flax seed itself, right?  Then, you get all the nutrition of the whole food, and it’s cheaper and more stable. Unlike the oil, you can bake with the seeds without destroying the omega-3s, and can even store ground flax seed for a month, at room temperature, without spoilage or oxidation.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to stevendepolo via flickr

 

Doctor's Note

I bet one of the reasons the medical community was so dismissive is because of the preponderance of sensitive skin in women. Did you see my video about how the profession used to treat menopause? Ghastly: Plant-Based Bioidentical Hormones.

For more on eating your way towards healthier skin, see:

For more on flax, see my last three videos: Flax Seeds vs. Prostate CancerWas It the Flax Seed, Fat Restriction, or Both?; and Flax Seed vs. Diabetes. Sick of flax videos already? No problem! Stay tuned for my next video, Fiber vs. Breast Cancer.

For further context, also check out my associated blog posts: Treating Sensitive Skin From the Inside OutFlax and Breast Cancer Prevention; and Flax and Breast Cancer Survival.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

48 responses to “Flax Seeds for Sensitive Skin

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  1. Soon we will see flaxseed powder capsules – 50 times the price per ounce – like we have garlic capsules and ginger capsules, and the problem is that a lot of people will buy them, because they will promise better diabetic control, so you can continue your SAD, and they will promise better skin, so you dont have to quit smoking to avoid wrinkles, and the manufacturer will surely rember the lable with “These statements have not been evaluated by FDA” :-)




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        1. Dr. Greger,

          You may not believe this, but I had the usual sun wrinkled skin on my chest from tanning when I was a kid. I am a regular consumer of flax and Chia seeds and I was looking in the mirror several weeks ago. Lo and behold the wrinkling on my chest has gone away by 90%. At first, I thought I was halluncinating, but my husband said my skin looked amazing not only where I tanned as a kid, but on my face as well. I am so happy that a study found this to be true!




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  2. Treating the skin from the inside out—just what I’ve been thinking of lately–coming out of the winter dry skin season. I eat flax regularly, but I had to use lots of lotion to stop my skin itching. I don’t have this problem when the warmer months come around–some kind of spring (vitamin D) vigor, or something. My itchy skin had irritated my bowel and I was having more gas; precisely what I don’t need more off. Slathering lotion all over my skin dampened my irritation considerably and the gas subsided.




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  3. Omega-3 derived eicosanoids competing with the arachidonic acid cascade reduce inflammation everywhere else, too.

    A topic which I hope Dr. Greger can discuss in future videos is endogenous advanced glycation reactions, which appear to be the main culprit in skin aging, through collagen cross linking (as well as arterial stiffness, vision deteriation, really the whole gamut of aging disorders). Most effects of diabetes seem to result from acceleration of glycation, and anti-diabetic pharmaceuticals are one of the most promising “gerosuppressants”.

    Dietary advanced glycation endproducts from browned meats (and sadly, also toast) accelerate the Maillard reaction in vivo by depleting our AGE receptor (PMID: 22908267), while numerous phytochemicals appear to interrupt glycation (see Odjakova et al. Plant-Derived Agents with Anti-Glycation Activity. 2012 for a review).

    Somewhat concerning is a single result that vegetarians had higher serum AGE levels (PMID: 11876491). I wonder if this might be a result of lower levels of taurine, a potent glycation inhibitor.




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    1. This conclusion could be because most vegans and vegetarians are not the healthiest bunch, and still eat processed mock meats, refined grains and other non healthy plant foods.

      AGE Amounts In Food (per serving)

      Starchy vegetables

      Corn, 20
      Sweet potato, roasted, 72
      White potato, boiled, 17
      White potato, french fries, homemade, 694
      White potato, french fries, fast food, 1,522
      White potato, roasted, 45 min, prepared with 5 mL oil, 218

      Grains/legumes/Cereals

      Bean, red kidney, raw, 116
      Bean, red kidney, canned, 191
      Bean, red kidney, cooked, 1 h, 298
      Pasta, cooked 8 min, 112
      Bran Flakes, 10
      Corn Flakes, 70
      Frosted Flakes, 128
      Oatmeal, dry, instant, 4
      Oatmeal, cooked, instant 25

      Bread

      Whole wheat, center, 16
      Whole wheat, center toasted, 25
      Whole wheat, crust, 22
      Whole wheat, crust, toasted, 36
      Pita pocket, 16

      Fruits

      Apple 13
      Apple, baked, 45
      Banana, 9
      Cantaloupe, 20
      Raisins, 36

      High Fat Plant Foods

      Almonds, roasted, 1,995
      Avocado, 473
      Cashews, roasted 2,942
      Olive, ripe 501
      Peanut butter, smooth 2,255
      Walnuts, roasted 2,366

      High Fat Animal Products

      Cream cheese, 3,265
      Mayonnaise, 9,470
      Butter, 1,324

      Beef

      Frankfurter, boiled 7 min, 6,736
      Frankfurter, broiled 5 min, 10,143
      Hamburger, fried 6 min, 2,375
      Hamburger, fast food, 4,876
      Meatball, boiled in sauce, 2,567
      Shoulder cut, broiled, 5,367
      Bacon, microwave, 1,173
      Deli ham, smoked, 2,114
      Pork chop, pan fried, 4,277

      Chicken breast, skinless cubes

      Steamed 10 min and broiled 12 min, 5,071
      Pan fried 10 min and boiled 12 min, 5,706
      Chicken breast, skinless cutlet

      Raw, 692
      Boiled 1 h, 1,011
      Broiled 15 min, 5,245
      Fried 8 min, 6,651
      Roasted, barbecue sauce, 4,291
      Roasted, breaded, 4,102
      Roasted, breaded, microwave, 1 min, 5,157

      Fish

      Salmon, raw, 502
      Salmon, smoked, 515
      Trout, raw, 705
      Trout, roasted 25 min, 1,924

      Cheese

      American, processed, 2,603
      American, processed, low fat, 1,425
      Brie, 1,679
      Cottage cheese, 1,744
      Feta 2,527
      Mozzarella, part skim, 503
      Parmesan, grated, 2,535

      http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/1/6/1293.full




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      1. Note broiled/fried tofu doesn’t come off too well in any of the AGE surveys – though soyburgers (which lack the Maillard Rxn enabling sugar of Tofu) are fine.

        While dietary Nε-carboxymethyllysine (the usual marker) does raise serum CML (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21792213), Krajcovicova-Kudlackova attributed higher AGE levels in her vegetarian cohort to their consumption of roughly twice as much fructose through fruit and honey: “It is due to higher proportion of more reactive acyclic form of fructose vs. glucose. From the ratio of prevalence of the acyclic to cyclic form of monosaccharide results the relative reactivity for AGE production, because only the acyclic forms of sugar participate in the glycation process.” (http://www.biomed.cas.cz/physiolres/2002/issue3/pdf/krajcovic.pdf). A cautionary note for sugar cravers, and perhaps we should aim for high phytochemical density and less sweetness (eg. berries) with our fruit.

        Also, it looks like endogenous production of methylglyoxal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylglyoxal) thrown off by normal metabolism may cause more glycation than CML. We have enzymes to deal with it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactoylglutathione_lyase), the genes for which which happens to be activated by, yes, veggies. A long list of phytochemicals allium & cruciferous veggies, teas, berries, spices all activate the Nrf2 pathway (https://www.thieme-connect.com/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0028-1088302). Curiously, they do so by being “sensed” as cell stressors, which they in fact are in large doses (http://www.pnas.org/content/109/14/5423.full). You can get too much of a good thing.




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      2. Alright. You just convinced me that I shouldn’t bake or fry anything (unless you know the exact temperatures harmful compounds are being produced at) and that eating raw or steaming is the best way to go. I find that having sweet potatoes submerged in some hot (hot enough to touch) water overnight works wonders.




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  4. Good news! Glad I’ve been making sure to eat flax seed. My skin is very sensitive. By the way, after watching your videos, I decided to cut out dairy. My chin (which constantly had one or more painful pimples) cleared up right away. I’ve even gotten some compliments on my complexion. Also, your videos have really helped me “manage” (nearly eliminate) my progressing PMS. Thank you!




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  5. Having to go Gluten Free I have been using flaxseeds with my fresh fruit making drinks, I have seen a difference in redness and most of my sores from gluten are gone.




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  6. It’s interesting to me how often conditions or symptoms that are mostly attributed to women are viewed as part of the so-called ” ‘princess and the pea’ phenomenon” within the medical community. I’m glad that this issue at least received some attention from the scientific medical community.




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  7. I’m not so sure why the flax seeds need to be ground. Soaking
    flax seeds in water for 10 or 15′ creates a viscous liquid much like egg
    whites — so something is being produced that needs no grinding.




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  8. Dr Gregor, can you advise me with chronic dry itchy skin, leaving skin legions and open sores? I am getting little help fom the dermatologists. Bi am eating flaxseeds and kale every day. Apply creams and olive oil to y skin twice daily and frustrated as all get out. Thank you.




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  9. Many sources claim that taking cold showers is also a good thing for sensitive skin and hair, but there does not seem to be much scientific evidence for this. What do you know about this subject Dr. Greger?




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  10. Since I stopped making smoothies, due to the damaged fiber, I forget to use the flax seed and chia seed. Hard to fit into my whole grain based food. It’s good to be reminded. I do believe that my skin got better when I was using it, so I’ll have to make a chia/flax pudding of some sort to have in the frig.




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    1. The fiber is not destroyed in smoothies, just disrupted in the sense that it not longer keeps you as full. The benefits of the fiber are retained though.




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  11. I didn’t know the seeds can be heated. A health food store employee told me I shouldn’t grind them in a (cheap) coffee grinder because of the heat of the grinding process, so i guess this isn’t true? (Reminds me of your video ‘Pharmacists Versus Health Food Store Employees: Who Gives Better Advice?’ :)) She also told me not to grind them up too much and that the golden flaxseeds are better. True or false? Haha!




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    1. Golden flaxseed and regular flaxseed are pretty much equivalent. There is no harm with grinding the seeds from the heat, this is a non issue. It is always better to grind flaxseeds to absorb what within the shell.




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      1. Thanks again Toxins. Yes, I know it’s pretty pointless to swallow the whole seed. Is it true though that they’re better bruised than ground up too much (powdery)?




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  12. It was interesting to know that ground flax seeds can be stored at room temp for that long before it would go rancid. I guess it must be due to the antioxidants in it.One must be careful if your the older male working out and want to have all the free circulating testosterone to can get as using flax seeds can lower testosterone, I would think it is a particular lignin doing it. MD Anderson cancer center uses about 4 tablespoons of flax seeds daily to significantly lower testosterone in their patients with androgen secreting ovarian tumors. To my understanding it is not so much that we decrease production of testosterone when we get older but more that it is bound up to binding proteins that is the issue.




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    1. Storing whole or ground flaxseed for long periods of time does not make them rancid

      “Storage effects: Flaxseed, either whole or coarsely ground, appears stable to long-term storage at room temperature. Even after 308 days at 22°C (72°F) there was essentially no change in peroxide value as a measure of oxidation by-products or in the percentage of ALA in fat extracted from the stored flaxseed samples5. This demonstration of oxidative stability in common storage was later confirmed by direct measurement of oxygen consumption. One gram samples of whole flaxseed, milled flaxseed and extracted flax oil were held in individual sealed glass tubes for 280 days at room temperature with 12h alternating dark/light cycles. All three preparations showed little change in headspace oxygen during this time although the flax oil sample was more variable. The fatty acid composition of all three samples remained unchanged, suggesting that flaxseed ALA was stable to both heat and light6.

      These stability results with small samples have been corroborated by studies on l kg lots of milled flaxseed which were stored in closed packages at 23°C for 128 days. The samples were examined initially and at approximately thirty-day intervals. The packages were triple-layer paper bags with plastic liners, much like those used in the 60 lb. bags normally supplied to commercial bakers. Sensory tests by a trained panel showed no difference in the aroma intensity of water slurries of fresh and stored samples at any of the four storage intervals. Changes in chemical indices of oxidation (peroxide values, free fatty acids and volatile compounds) were negligible7. As further evidence of flaxseed’s storage stability, 36 consumers could not tell the difference between the taste of yeast breads baked with the either fresh or stored milled flaxseed included as 11% of flour weight in the recipe8.”

      6. Chen Z-Y, et al. J Am Oil Chem Soc. 1992; 71:629-632.
      7. Malcolmson LJ, et al. Proc Flax Inst. 1998; 57:75-80.
      8. Malcolmson LJ, et al. Flax Council of Canada, Internal Report, 1997, 15pp.




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  13. I have noticed that if I shave (straight razor or DE) after eating 1-2 tbspn of ground flax seed, I am very likely to bleed (many tiny micro-nicks). The flax-bleed effect is immediate and seems to last 24-48 hours. I now eat flax after shaving, never before.




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  14. Thank you for sharing this video.

    my dermatologist said i have “seborrheic dermatitis” on my scalp and he said diet has nothing to do with it. I disagree after i found a study by the “University of Maryland Medical Center” please click here http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/dermatitis that mentions diet does affect “seborrheic dermatitis” with foods to avoid eg meats, especially poultry, and dairy.

    Everyday i suffer from an itchy scalp from “seborrheic dermatitis” but not as much before i discovered plant based diets. However this is not a sensitive skin issue “Seborrheic dermatitis: may be caused by oily skin or hair, or brought on by stress”

    Your website really changed my lifestyle and i just hope this skin condition can be reduced.

    Michael Greger M.D. and Joseph Gonzales, R.D. i really appreciate your response.




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    1. Hey Tim! Thanks so much for reposting. So glad to hear this site has helped. I think you’re onto something with the research you found on dermatitis from U of M. I searched around a bit and to my knowledge only 10-20 studies exist on seborrheic dermatitis and nutrition. One study dates back to 1988 Possible nutrient mediators in psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. II. Nutrient mediators: essential fatty acids; vitamins A, E and D; vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin and biotin; vitamin C selenium; zinc; iron. Another study looked “Biotin recycling impairment in phenylketonuric children with seborrheic dermatitis”. From what I gather, biotin (a B vitamin) may play a role. We know protein and B vitamins in general aid skin, hair, and nail growth. I would imagine having proper nutrition may help certain skin disorders. Dr. Greger also has a page on skin health.

      My thoughts are that diet cannot hurt this condition. There is no harm in trying to boost your nutrition, focus on food sources of biotin, essential fats, and other nutrients important for skin health.

      I hope that semi-helps, as I know this is not the best answer. If I find more info I’ll be sure to post here!

      Thanks,
      Joseph




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      1. Dear Joseph,

        Thank you very much for your response and research.

        Its very much appreciated.

        Will certainly look into these studies and your comments.

        Thank you for pointing out the resource pubmed i just found a study on there where they applied topically “crude honey on chronic seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11485891 the conclusion mentions “It might be concluded that crude honey could markedly improve seborrheic dermatitis and associated hair loss and prevent relapse when applied weekly.”.

        Im using it with your recommendations to see how it improves.

        Thank you for your assistance.

        Tim




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        1. Good luck! And let me know if you want the 1988 study in full? I just received it. Doesn’t seem ground breaking from skimming the surface, but happy to share.

          Best,
          Joseph




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            1. I also have SD and while I take about 2-3T a day of Flaxmeal – it is still a problem. Did you find anything else that worked for you?




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              1. Jackie, sulfa soap has helped me with my seborrheic dermatitis – I have never seen a doctor about it, but seems like it is seborrheic dermatitis from what I have been reading. I buy the sulfa soap bars on amazon.




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  15. This is such a good topic, i am a mature woman, i have a skin ailment( melasma) i have tried many products to aid in my skin with very little success, now my skin is so dry, i apply lotion and my skin drinks it up, but my skin is still dry, and i have some problem area’s with eczema, any suggestions.




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    1. As the video mentioned, increasing the good fats in your diet can improve your skin from the inside out. In addition to flax, adding avocado, coconut, other nuts and seeds, etc… are all very good sources of fat. Nuts and seeds should be soaked in order to remove the phytic acid on the surface. Add one at a time and see what works for you




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  16. rosacea
    please do a video on rosacea
    i eat a fairly healthy plant based diet & have recently developed rosacea on my cheeks and chin & nose
    help !
    have been prescribed a new cream soolantra (ivermectin)
    sounds nasty stuff !




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  17. So, flax is good, and nuts are good, but is it either flax or nuts? If you’re getting in two tablespoons of ground flax daily, will eating nuts in addition to that be consuming too much fat altogether?




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