Cod Liver Oil for Acne? The Truth May Surprise You
Well prepare to be surprised, because the story isn’t all sunshine and rainbows…
But there is some good news…
How Cod Liver Oil Helps Acne
First, let’s take a look at how cod liver oil can really, truly help to reduce acne breakouts.
It’s main claim to fame is that it’s packed full of vitamins and nutrients that are particularly effective at treating acne.
The main three are:
Vitamin A –
Have you ever heard of retinol, retin-a, or accutane? All of these are used to treat acne – and they all come from vitamin A.
Vitamin A is one of the absolute most important vitamins for treating and preventing acne.
The main way that vitamin A helps with acne is by reducing keratinization (skin cell shedding).
Acne, psoriasis, and other skin conditions all have one thing in common…
Acne sufferers shed dead skin cells abnormally fast.
These extra dead skin cells pile up and combine with sebum (skin oil) to cause a clogged pore – and ultimately a big ‘ol pimple.
But fear not! Vitamin A to the rescue…
Getting enough vitamin A will help skin cells to function longer before they die.
This will slow down skin shedding, and lead to fewer clogged pores, and an improved appearance.
According to the USDA, cod liver oil has over 13,000 IU of vitamin A per tbsp.
Vitamin D –
This study showed that 95% of acne sufferers were deficient in vitamin D, and had about half as much vitamin D as people without acne.
That’s big news considering that another study showed that vitamin D supplements reduced acne by 35%.
And guess what…
Cod liver oil is full of vitamin D!
According to the National Institutes of Health, cod liver oil has over 1,300 IU of vitamin D per tbsp.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids –
Here’s where things get tricky…
Omega-3 fatty acids have some benefits – but also some disadvantages.
One of the main ways they help people is by correcting an imbalance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in our modern diet.
When we get too much Omega-6 (from vegetable oils, nuts, processed foods, etc) and not enough Omega-3 (from fish, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc) it causes inflammation.
You want to eat a diet with a ratio of between 1:1 and 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3. Unfortunately, our modern diets contain more like 10:1 omega-6 to omega-3 or even higher.
Taking cod liver oil will help correct this imbalance – and noticeably reduce inflammation.
Now for the bad news…
All of these “essential” fatty acids (which aren’t particularly essential) are also polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs for short.
PUFAs are liquid at room temperature, and highly unstable. They oxidize very easily when exposed to light, heat or oxygen.
Instead of taking a bunch of cod liver oil to balance out your PUFA ratios, you’re much better off just eating less Omega-6.
A Quick Recap
The vitamin A and D in cod liver oil are great for acne.
The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can reduce inflammation, but have unwanted side effects, and you may be better off just eating less omega-6 fatty acids to get the same benefits.
The Best Type of Cod Liver Oil for Acne
You can break down the different types of cod liver oil into three basic groups:
Highly Processed Cod Liver Oil
These wanna-be cod liver oils end up with the wrong ratios of vitamins or unnecessarily high amounts of vitamins. They just don’t confer the same acne fighting benefits as the real thing.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Fermenting cod livers to extract their oil is one of the ways people have processed cod liver oil for thousands of years. There’s no high heat to damage the product.
Cod livers are placed in a giant vat along with salt water and allowed to ferment for up to 6 months. This fermentation process breaks down the livers and releases the oil which is gently skimmed off the top of the vat.
Just for clarification, the oil itself does not ferment, only the livers do. Supposedly, this method produces a very natural and healthy oil with all its vitamins still intact.
However, this method has attracted a lot of controversy in recent years…
These concerns center around Green Pasture, a company that produces an extremely popular fermented cod liver oil product. Dr. Kaayla Daniel released a report claiming that vitamin levels in the Green Pastures product were actually lower than claimed, and one of the three batches tested was rancid.
This brings me to my final and favorite type of cod liver oil for acne…
Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil
In my opinion, this is the best type of cod liver oil for acne…
Extra virgin cod liver oil (EVCLO) uses another cold extraction method only possible with freshly caught fish from very cold waters. The company that first introduced this production method is Rosita. Their method uses no heat, mechanical pressure, solvents or chemicals.
Basically, all they do is allow the freshly caught fish to come up to room temperature. This drastic change in temperature causes the liver cells to burst and release their oil. It’s the exact same process used by the Vikings and earlier Norse civilizations.
Shane Ellison (The People’s Chemist) performed his own independent lab tests on Rosita EVCLO and here’s what he had to say…[My]… analysis confirmed that the extra-virgin cod liver oil from Rosita Natural Foods contained all of nature’s healing fatty acids (EPA and DHA) along with a host of naturally occurring micronutrients such as vitamin A and D. Even better, no environmental contaminants or synthetic counterfeits were discovered . . . This is the only company on earth that I know of, that’s not butchering or adulterating their cod liver oil for the sake of profits or convenience. And it’s the company I trust to preserve and promote health in my family.Shane Ellison (The People's Chemist)
If you do decide to try using cod liver oil for your acne, this is the brand I recommend using.
Is There a Better Way to Get These Nutrients That Won’t Expose You to Harmful PUFAs?
Of course there is!
The easiest way to get more vitamin A is by eating more vitamin A rich foods.
However, don’t think you can just eat more carrots or kale…
As I discussed in my article about the benefits of vitamin A for acne, plant sources of vitamin A are not absorbed very well by the body and you’re better off getting vitamin A from high quality animal products.
The best thing to eat for vitamin A is liver. One 6 oz serving of liver can provide 30,000 IU of vitamin A (nearly an entire weeks worth).
Of course you can also get more vitamin A from supplements (that don’t include harmful PUFAs), and there are also plenty of great vitamin A topicals such as retinol.
As I’ve discussed previously, the best way to get more vitamin D is straight from the sun…
The most powerful form of vitamin D (called vitamin D3 sulfate) only comes from direct exposure of the skin to UV rays.
So Who Should Try Using Cod Liver Oil for Their Acne?
There are two groups of people that may benefit the most from taking cod liver oil.
People With Inflammatory Acne –
Studies have shown that people with inflammatory acne (red inflamed acne – not whiteheads) can significantly improve their acne by getting more vitamin D.
People Who Think They Might be Vitamin A Deficient –
Animals are the best source of bioavailable vitamin A. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian you’re much more likely to be low on vitamin A. This could also include people with digestive disorders that prevent them from absorbing nutrients.
Non-meat-eaters (and meat eaters as well) can increase the amount of vitamin A they get from plant sources by adding fat. Studies have shown that people absorb basically zero carotenoids (plant-based vitamin A) unless it’s eaten with fat.
Combine Cod Liver Oil With Other Acne Treatments for Better Results
Whether you decide to take cod liver oil, or get your vitamin A and D from other sources – it will most likely not be enough to completely eliminate a severe (or even moderate) case of acne.
That’s why I always tell my readers to try attacking their acne from more than just one angle…
Cod liver helps improve acne from the inside out – but don’t forget to treat your acne from the outside as well. There are tons of topical treatments you can try.
I’m a big fan of science-backed natural treatments such as tea tree oil and green tea. They both have been shown to improve acne as well as benzoyl peroxide (the world’s most common acne treatment) but with less irritation and side-effects.
If you need ideas for a treatment to combine with cod liver oil, check out my big list of 61 ways to treat acne.
I know acne can be frustrating, but once you find a treatment that works for you – it will get better.
If you’ve ever tried cod liver oil for your acne, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment down below. Good luck everyone!