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Fatty Acids in Algae Against Acne

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Have you been fighting acne for a while now and have not yet discovered a cure? Trust us when we say you are not alone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85% of people between ages 12 and 24 experience acne at some point1. If you’re looking for a solution, you’ve come to the right place. Marine algae’s fatty acids2 may be the remedy to your breakouts.

Scottish scientists have been testing the effect of algae on inflamed skin and have discovered that the marine plant possesses certain cleansing characteristics, which may be able to clear up skin.

Algae for Acne—Does it Work?

Scottish scientists have been testing the effect of algae on inflamed skin and have discovered that the marine plant possesses certain cleansing characteristics, which may be able to clear up skin3. Moreover, researchers claim that there may be drying properties to be found in algae bacteria, that resemble salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxidecomponents that are already found in many anti-acne medicines4 – maybe even ones you have been using to combat your skin’s occasional habit of flaring up. Let’s face it, there is not much that is better than waking up to an acne breakout that is drying out.

The research on acne-fighting algae is laid out in the journal Marine Drugs5, and it outlines findings which may very well lead to a solution for many who suffer from this skin condition. More specifically, the representatives of the University of Stirling in Scotland believe that the properties of marine algae may be able to halt the development of the germs producing acne3. To put a name to your enemy, the bacteria to blame for breakouts are called Propionibacterium acnes. The fatty acids in your skin are already tirelessly combating microbes that cause acne, so researchers are adamant that adding some more fuel to that fire can only be beneficial for your complexion. While algae was not found to be more helpful than other known cures, it was found to be just as effective as common acne-fighting ingredients3.

How does algae react with acne? Pimples are usually either caused by Propionibacterium acne bacteria, a congestion of oil-releasing hair follicles, or by excessive production of sebum by your skin’s sebaceous glands6. As mentioned, the advantageous components present in algae are already naturally available within our skin. What fatty acids do is they get rid of the bacteria which causes skin irritation, and they can thus forestall the development of visible zits. Therefore, boosting the abundance of these acids can lead to an even more effective battle against pimples. Indeed, there are several kinds of fatty acids that are known for successfully bringing about clear skin7. These include dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid8. The first one can be found in brown algae, while the second one is found in fish which consume algae containing this component. Other fatty acids are additionally useful, such as Omega-6 and Omega-3 acids.

How to Use Algae to Fight Acne

Does this mean that you need to start covering your face in seaweed? Not exactly, but you might be able to get more of the useful fatty acids from eating seaweed (seaweed salads are thus a delicious option for curing acne), fish oil, or even human milk. Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic acid is specifically obtainable from certain animal products. Still, to counter the possibility of having to dive face-deep into a pile of seaweed, scientists are now trying to develop the useful algae ingredients into an easy-to-use cream. While many acne-fighting lotions bring unpleasant consequences like additional inflammation (on the principle of it-gets-worse-before-it-gets-better), dermatitis and a generally dry complexion, researchers are looking to make this remedy as gentle as possible. Yet, the ointment may even become potent enough to replace other medications that are tried-and-true for combating acne.

Until then, you may want to increase your seafood intake, so as to maximize the effect of these fatty acids on your skin. This will not only help you maintain a healthier diet, overall, but it may also aid you in your fight against skin inflammation. Who knew the cure to acne may be hiding in the sea?


  1. Skin conditions by the numbers. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 2019.
  2. Pereira H, Barreira L, Figueiredo F, et al. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids of Marine Macroalgae: Potential for Nutritional and Pharmaceutical Applications. Mar Drugs. 2012;10(12):1920-1935. doi:10.3390/md10091920
  3. Desbois A, Lawlor K. Antibacterial Activity of Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids against Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus aureus. Mar Drugs. 2013;11(11):4544-4557. doi:10.3390/md11114544
  4. Shannon E, Abu-Ghannam N. Antibacterial Derivatives of Marine Algae: An Overview of Pharmacological Mechanisms and Applications. Mar Drugs. 2016;14(4):81. doi:10.3390/md14040081
  5. Marine Drugs Journal. Published 2019.
  6. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. 2013:474-485. doi:10.1111/bjd.12149
  7. Kim EJ, Kim M-K, Jin X-J, Oh J-H, Kim JE, Chung JH. Skin Aging and Photoaging Alter Fatty Acids Composition, Including 11,14,17-eicosatrienoic Acid, in the Epidermis of Human Skin. J Korean Med Sci. 2010;25(6):980. doi:10.3346/jkms.2010.25.6.980
  8. Barre DE. Borage, Evening Primrose, Blackcurrant, and Fungal Oils; γ-Linolenic Acid-rich Oils. In: Gourmet and Health-Promoting Specialty Oils. Elsevier; 2009:237-266. doi:10.1016/B978-1-893997-97-4.50013-9
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