Linoleic acid: Why you need to know about vitamin F

Linoleic acid could really benefit from having vitamin C‘s publicist. Despite a few pumps being incredible for moisture-starved skin and dialling down inflammation, few people are familiar with this skincare ingredient.

One of the main reasons linoleic acid flies under the radar is because it’s so hard to define. In theory, linoleic acid is a vitamin – but not in the traditional sense of the word, notes Emma Coleman, a dermatology and aesthetic registered general nurse.

“Linoleic acid is vitamin F, but the term is misleading,” she says. “It’s really a combination of two polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-3 alphalinolenic acid (ALA) and omega-6 linoleic acid (LA).  The body needs both to protect the brain and nervous system as well as the skin.”

So how exactly does linoleic acid work? And who should be using it? Ahead our experts break down this ingredient and how to incorporate it into a routine for the best results.

What is linoleic acid?

Put simply, linoleic acid is fat. Specifically, it’s a type of essential fatty acid known as vitamin F (for ease, think ‘f’ for fat) that is rich in omega-6.

“Our bodies don’t produce linoleic acid naturally,” says Emma, “so we have to include it in our diet.” Vitamin F can be found in foods such as nuts (almonds are a good source), seeds and egg yolks, as well as plant oils including rosehip and argan oils. Better still, it can up the ante of your daily routine when you slather it on via moisturisers, face oils and serums.

How does vitamin F work?

The body uses linoleic acid to create two different types of essential lipids. The first of these are ceramides, which are like the cement that hold your cells together in the outermost layer of skin. “The body needs omega-6 to make ceramides, which help the skin to retain moisture and prevent it from becoming dehydrated while fending off UV rays, germs and air pollutants,” says Emma.

The second are prostaglandins, which control inflammation and promote healing.

Scientists theorise that because these two lipids would ideally be found in your skin’s sebum, linoleic acid may be a deciding factor in how balanced your oil production is and whether you suffer from congested skin.

What are the benefits of linoleic acid for skin?

Alongside linoleic acid’s obvious anti-inflammatory properties, other benefits include improved cell turnover, so skin looks brighter, and a stronger skin barrier. To reiterate, the latter is especially important because when all the microscopic tears in your skin barrier are filled in, it’s like a burly bouncer that locks in moisture and prevents aggressors from sneaking in.

Likewise, there’s a proven link between low levels of linoleic acid, a disrupted skin barrier and breakouts. “People that are acne prone have been shown to have low levels of linoleic acid in the lipids on the surface of their skin,” says consultant dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto.