Fresh fish or fish oils: Which is best for healthy skin?

Fresh fish or fish oils

Fish oil supplements can have anti-inflammatory benefits, but is it better to take supplements or eat the real thing? Learn why we rarely prescribe fish oil

Over the years we have heard many arguments for and against the consumption of both fish and fish oil supplements for skin health.  A healthy diet rich in fresh fish would seem like the obvious way of topping up your Omega 3 stores, however fear of mercury contamination and our desire for an easy fix has meant more of us are choosing to take fish oil supplements. But when it comes to treating psoriasis and eczema, are fish oil supplements all they’re cracked up to be?

Diet Vs Supplements: What’s the evidence?

Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.  These fatty acids are referred to as “essential” because the body cannot make them and therefore we are reliant on regular dietary intake to support the body’s needs.  Omega 3 fatty acids are required for many body functions including regulating inflammation, blood pressure, clotting, platelet aggregation, brain health and reproduction.

Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, it is only natural to feel that taking fish oil tablets would benefit an inflammatory skin condition; however the evidence is mixed at best.  A recent 2018 Meta-Analysis of the use of fish oil supplements to treat psoriasis showed no clinical benefit (Yang, S., et al, 2018).  Similar results have been found with eczema. 

The strongest evidence to date appears to be in favour of the consumption of fresh fish over the use of supplementation.  A 2007 study showed that high fish consumption (more than 1-2 serves per week) during pregnancy and late infancy decreased the fish of atopic dermatitis (LISA study group, 2007).  Fish consumption as part of a Mediterranean style diet may also be beneficial for psoriasis patients due its association with reduced cardiovascular risk factors, a common comorbidity of psoriasis. 

In summary, the evidence points towards ditching the fish oil supplements from your skin care routine and replacing them with more fresh, oily fish as part of a well balanced diet.