The PUFA Controversy

PUFA is an acronym for polyunsaturated fatty acids, just as MUFA stands for monounsaturated fatty acids. This short-hand way of describing the fatty acids that makeup carrier oils is common in popular literature.

Regarding fatty acids, mono or poly refers to the number of double bonds that maintain the carbon chain.

So, in claims to avoid PUFA, the implication is that the double bonds on fatty acid chains are weak and, therefore, bad or harmful.

Double bonds hold the carbon chain together to maintain the carbon chain that is no longer saturated and give us liquid oils like olive, MUFA, or evening primrose, PUFA.

These double bonds serve a purpose and are also essential for our health. Without one of these often maligned PUFAs, linoleic acid, our health would deteriorate, and our skin would suffer.

Once I studied the fats and oils from the plant world, I began to appreciate how nature gives us all the tools we need to live a healthy life. The PUFA fatty acids are part of the toolkit; they are “essential” fatty acids, often referred to by another acronym, EFAs.

And there are two of them, linoleic acid, omega-6, and a-linolenic acid, omega-3. They work together in the body and perform a wide range of functions, one being the regulation of inflammation. Consumed in an unbalanced way, omega-6 and omega-3 do not function as they should.

And this is how the PUFA misinformation began and now spreads.

Once the misunderstanding from an unbalanced PUFA ratio took off, the assumption that omega-6 was also harmful to the skin was born. It is like putting out brush fires; they keep springing up regularly.

My team and I have done an in-depth survey of studies going back decades, trying to find where the idea that PUFA’s harm the skin originated. They aren’t there.

One individual made it his life’s work to spread the harm from PUFA, liquid seed oils, to the body, which is unsubstantiated by any study other than his claims. Still, no studies make any relationship to harm the skin.

And in direct contrast to this single point of view are numerous studies on how valuable the essential fatty acids, both PUFA, are for the necessary healthy functioning of the body.

What is important is how oils high in the unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are stored, used, and balanced in the body.

Examples of oils with a dominant omega-6, linoleic acid, are Evening Primrose seed oil, Grapeseed oil, Watermelon seed oil, Cucumber seed oil, Passion flower seed oil, Guava seed oil, Black seed oil.

Examples of oils with both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids:
Chia seed oil, Kiwi seed oil, Sacha inchi seed oil, Flax seed oil, Camelina seed oil.


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About the author 

Susan Parker

I'm Susan M Parker, author, teacher and researcher. My life is steeped in the lipid oils, carrier oils, plant butters. Since publishing my book Power of the Seed in 2014 I have been teaching and sharing my work with the botanical and lipid oils with students from around the world.

  • Thank you! I’m very new to formulating and seek trustworthy resources to better understand how all of these amazing products work and what benefits each bring. Having said that, had I come across an article claiming PUFAs and MUFAs were dangerous, I would have probably panicked. This post, however, has put my mind at ease. I’m very grateful for people such as yourself, who do the heavy lifting and debunk certain claims, simplifying things for novices like myself, who wouldn’t even know where to start looking to find answers.

  • Thank you! For digging in and working to dispel this fear-mongering.

    Us in the essential world are all too familiar with claims made with very little or nothing to back them up just to paddle a narrative and make a name/fortune off of it. And yes, it is like brushfires, and sometimes even reverberates into a misguided legislative effort as we’ve seen with some recent claims about Lavender.

    • You are welcome, Hana; there was an old saying about bad pennies always turning up – this appears to be the bad penny of misinformation! Always coming around. But I will stay on it, as it drives me a little crazy! Good luck with beating out the brush fires on your patch.

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