Meet borage oil, your new best friend. While you may not have heard of it, this extract has been a staple in eastern medicine for millennia — and now it’s changing the way many of us think about skincare. (Maybe you spotted a mention or two of the benefits of borage oil on “Dr. Oz.”)
But what is it, and what makes this oil such a potent addition to your skincare regimen? Read on.
This article covers:
- What is borage oil?
- Borage oil benefits for skin.
- Surprising benefits and secrets of borage oil.
- Borage oil side effects.
- Borage oil benefits for different skin types.
This extract is derived from borage (scientific name Borago officinalis L.), a wildflower that originated in Syria but now grows wild throughout Europe, South America, the Middle East, and many Mediterranean islands. It’s known as the “starflower” because of, well, its star-shaped appearance, as well as “bee bread” or “bee bush” since the flower is a favorite of the insects. Borage, with its prickly, fern-like leaves and extraordinary bright blue petals, can grow up to 1.5 feet in height, and its seeds, used to make borage oil, are harvested from the plant’s cucumber-like bulb.
Borage has been prized for its medicinal properties for over 1,500 years. Mentions of borage and its historical uses date back ancient Rome, where Pliny the Elder wrote of its virtues as an antidepressant. Borage is also thought to be the ingredient in nepenthe, that when the leaves are steeped in wine it would cause absolute forgetfulness. The plant was mentioned in two legendary poems — Homer’s Odyssey and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven — and aside from forgetfulness and epic poetry, borage leaves have been brewed into medicinal teas through the middle ages.
Today, although the leaves and flowers are still used for medicinal purposes in cultures around the globe, the plant is also widely used in the culinary world. With a taste akin to cucumber, the leaves and flowers are incorporated into cocktails, soups and stews, salads, and jellies and preserves, and are even candied and added to desserts. If you called borage a wonder plant, you wouldn’t be exaggerating.
But in the world of skincare, the plant’s leaves and flowers are tossed out in favor of the seeds extracted from its bulbs. It’s from these seeds that the oil is expressed, letting us harness borage’s skin-healing powers.
Full of essential fatty acids, borage oil is one of the richest sources on Earth of one in particular: gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). At 24% of its volume, the GLA content of borage oil surpasses that of other oils like evening primrose and black currant seed.
What are the benefits of topical borage oil application?
We can’t make GLA on our own: We metabolize it through our dietary intake of linoleic acid (LA) through our diets. We create GLA through an enzyme called Delta-6 desaturase (D6D), which, through a series of processes, turns it into Prostaglandin 1 (PG1), which is a molecule that’s critical for maintaining healthy skin. PG1 helps boost and maintain your skin’s moisture barrier, which protects the skin and body from damaging foreign agents and irritants. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that keep skin calm and working properly.
Most of us eat plenty of healthy vegetable oils, which are rife with LA, so we tend to be able to manufacture plenty of GLA via this enzyme conversion process. But if that D6D enzyme has been impaired by aging or inflammatory skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis, or atopic dermatitis, GLA production slows, meaning that the body’s production of PG1 also grinds to a halt, causing transdermal water loss and dry skin.
What does borage oil do for your body?
Since borage oil is rich in GLA, its topical application helps cut the lazy D6D enzyme out of the process, supplementing the body with this vital essential fatty acid so that normal PG1 production can continue unimpeded. Compromised skin can start to maintain hydration and protect itself from irritation and further damage with the help of borage oil’s high GLA content, which also helps prevent disruption of the immune system.
Does borage oil help acne?
Yes, it can! Skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis share two common features: inflammation and a compromised moisture barrier. Therefore, acne sufferers — especially those whose acne is cystic — can find the anti-inflammatory properties of borage quite helpful. The oil's abundance of Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids prevent skin dryness (which exacerbates irritation); by maintaining the moisture barrier while calming the skin, borage oil can help prevent the factors that lead to acne.
Can borage oil cause acne? Can borage oil clog pores? Is borage oil comedogenic?
Borage is non-comedogenic, so when used with an acne-prevention skincare routine (ie, post-cleansing and before moisturizer), it won’t clog your pores. Removing dirt and debris along with dead skin cells via proper cleansing is the key to keeping pores open and preventing them from clogging in the first place. As a post-cleansing treatment, borage oil acts as a hydrating anti-inflammatory that soothes skin, increases blood flow, and keeps skin moisturized so that sebum production stays at normal levels. As always, though, talk to your dermatologist before adding any new ingredients or treatments into your acne skincare regimen.
Because of its calming properties, borage oil is also widely prized for otherwise-healthy skin. Essential fatty acids are critical to maintain a healthy lipid balance in the skin as well as to prevent moisture loss (and the resulting damage), which means it can also help wrinkles, fine lines, and dryness.
We don’t stop to consider inflammation and the damage it can cause the skin unless we can see it or experience discomfort, but rest assured that inflamed skin is damaged and compromised; unless it is soothed and hydrated, it will continue to break down until the damage becomes visible, at which point it takes more effort to fix. Using borage oil as a part of a normal skincare routine can boost your moisture barrier and calm your skin, allowing your skin to produce new cells, prevent damage and inflammation, and maintain a youthful, dewy appearance for longer.
What is the difference between evening primrose and borage oil?
While both these oils contain GLA, they yield from different plants and boast different levels of the essential fatty acid. Evening primrose oil comes from the yellow wildflower, Oenothera biennis, which is a separate species from the starflower. Evening primrose oil contains Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids as well as GLA, but you get a higher dosage and efficacy from borage oil.
Even though we’re talking about skincare, it would be a mistake not to discuss the virtues of this miraculous extract. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it a powerful tool to treat other maladies of the human body. You can use it to help:
- manage arthritis
- lower blood pressure
- increasing heart health
- manage stress
- assist with chronic diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s
- lower stress levels and hyperactivity
- decrease respiratory distress
It also has strong indications in gynecological health and pain management with issues ranging from PMS to endometriosis. It’s also thought to regulate metabolism, which can help with weight loss and management.
Even though borage oil is considered widely safe for use both internally and externally, it can have contraindications in some individuals.
- The leaves, flower, and seeds of the borage plant can contain small amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). When taken orally, PA can cause liver damage in adults and children, so it’s important to check for PA-free products when using borage oil.
- You might want to avoid using borage oil when pregnant: PA poses the risk of birth defects, can be passed on through breast milk, and also might possibly induce labor. It’s not known if certified PA-free products are safe to use during pregnancy, so it’s most likely best to avoid using them during that time.
- Individuals with bleeding disorders will also want to be cautious, as borage can also act as an anticoagulant, causing easier bruising and prolonged bleeding times. It’s not suitable for those taking aspirin or other NSAIDs. Additionally, if you’ve experienced seizures in the past, it’s best to consult your doctor before using it.
- When taking larger doses of borage oil supplements, some individuals also experience gastrointestinal issues including belching, bloating, and loose, soft stool.
While most of these are extraordinary conditions, it’s always best to speak with your doctor and/or dermatologist before introducing any new products or ingredients into your healthcare and skincare routine.
As one of the great anti-inflammatory aids in the beauty world, borage oil can work wonders on skin compromised by inflammatory skin conditions. Let’s take a look at some benefits of borage oil used topically:Borage oil for acne
Essentially, acne-prone skin has been sensitized by stressors both internal and external. The body senses that the skin is undergoing some kind of attack, whether that be dirt and debris that gets clogged in a pore via a compromised moisture barrier, internal stress caused by hormone fluctuation, or other types of inflammatory issues (life, work, trigger foods, etc.). Your body’s response to this attack is to produce more sebum to ward off any further skin damage. Most people with acne get caught in a loop of over-cleansing to remove the dirt and debris, stripping the skin of its oil and causing dryness; in turn, aggravating the skin to produce even more sebum. Constant cleansing, stress, and hormone fluctuations in both teens and adults — especially women — know this vicious, seemingly unending cycle all too well.
Borage oil helps resolve these issues in a few ways. GLA helps with production of new, healthy skin through the production of PG1, which is critical for acne sufferers. Its anti-inflammatory properties soothe aggravated skin and slow sebum production. PG1 plays a key role in maintaining the skin’s moisture barrier, which, of course, protects against the foreign bodies that cause skin inflammation. PG1 also helps increase blood flow throughout the body, which can help remove the toxins and debris that cause clogged pores without the immune system trying to force the dirt out through the pores (which can cause breakouts). Finally, this important lipid can help calm the stress response and hormone imbalances that irritate the skin and trigger sebum production.
Acne-prone patients should always consult with a dermatologist before using products that contain borage oil, and it should always be used in conjunction with a good skincare routine and an anti-inflammation diet.
- Look for products that say “non-comedogenic” on the label to ensure they’re safe to use on acne-prone skin without clogging pores.
- Start with a good non-comedogenic cleanser to gently remove surface dirt and dead skin cells. This is also a great way to incorporate borage into your routine as a facial cleansing oil like bareMinerals Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil, which is a lightweight, non-comedogenic cleanser for all skin types. The key to cleansing when acne-prone is to only remove the factors that clog pores so you can maintain the skin’s moisture barrier. Gentle cleansing is critical: You should be able to run your finger over your skin without it skipping or dragging across. “Squeaky-clean” skin is not the aim — it means you’ve gone too far and stripped the moisture barrier again.
- Follow with a toner to return skin’s pH balance to normal and to ensure clean pores. Your dermatologist should be able to recommend the right product for your skincare regimen.
- You should follow with a serum that helps boost moisture. Remember, acne-prone skin creates additional sebum if it thinks it’s dry or under attack. Therefore, you want your skin to remain as calm and hydrated as possible. Your dermatologist can make excellent suggestions here as well.
- This is where a borage facial oil can be used at the advice of your dermatologist: A facial oil helps further lock in hydration while delivering nutrients; and the calming, GLA-packed benefits of borage will be a welcome addition to your skin. Add a light layer over your serum onto clean skin before moisturizing.
- End your routine with a non-comedogenic, hydrating moisturizer to seal in the healing and keep that all-important moisture barrier intact.
Studies have widely suspected that individuals with these skin conditions lack the D6D enzyme levels to metabolize LA into GLA, which decreases your skin’s moisture levels and compromises its protective moisture barrier. This can result in eczema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and dry skin.
Rich in GLA, borage oil delivers critical levels of this essential fatty acid to the skin and boosts its PG1 production. This prompts the skin to create new, fresh cells while maintaining the ideal interstitial water levels that keep skin supple, calm, hydrated, and non-irritated.
Because borage oil keeps inflammation at bay and soothes while binding moisture to the skin, it can help dry skin from developing more serious inflammatory conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.
- Borage oil comes in both oral and topical forms.
- Studies have been inconclusive about the oral supplements and their ability to deliver the same benefits of GLA as the topical varieties, which deliver the essential fatty acid directly to the source. If you’re looking to reap the benefits of borage oil when it comes to calming these inflammatory skin conditions, it’s most likely best to apply topically.
- Inflamed skin is compromised skin, so you’ll also want to make sure that you treat your skin like the sensitized organ that it is. Avoid products with perfumes, dyes, synthetics, parabens, or sulfates.
- Your local health food store is a great place to find products to help your condition.
Borage oil in beauty products
This oil’s skin-loving levels of GLA and anti-inflammatory benefits are why beauty companies are including it in their product formulations. If you’ve got an inflammatory skin condition — or just want to reap the rewards of the hydrating, anti-aging benefits of this nutrient-dense ingredient — here are a few ways to introduce a barrage of borage oil products into your beauty routine:
Cleansers, cleansing oils, and cleansing cloths
With products that contain borage oil, cleansing no longer means stripping away the vital moisture barrier that protects your skin and keeps it hydrated, supple, and dewy. There are plenty of cleansers containing this medicinal herbal extract, such as Fresh’s Soy Face Cleanser, OleHenriksen’s Stay Balanced Oil Control Cleansing Cloths, or bareMinerals’ Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil.
Just remember: No matter the cleansing method, always use products gently and only to remove surface dirt and grime. Stop short of squeaking, overly-stripped skin.
Borage oil eye cream
The anti-aging benefits of borage are especially helpful for the delicate skin around the eye, gently boosting skin production and maintaining supple hydration so that fine lines and wrinkles stay at bay. Shikai is a natural line that makes a lovely borage extract eye cream.
Serums are where the skin-boosting benefits of borage come alive. Combined with other nutrients, they can sink into the skin and deliver GLA along with other skin-nurturing ingredients. There are endless options at all price points and in organic and non-organic formulations: Jouer, suki, Osmia Organics, Omorovicza, Rodin, Aesop, and Kiehl’s are just a few of the options. Remember that oil is a sealant, so it’s always best to apply over freshly-cleansed, exfoliated, slightly damp skin and before your moisturizer to lock in hydration and nutrients.
Borage oil face masks
Masks are a vital delivery system for concentrated repair and hydration restoration, so using one that contains borage oil is a great way to accomplish your dewy skincare goals. Amika, Tata Harper, Naturopathica, and Dr. Hauschka all use borage oil in mask formulas whose benefits range from soothing to purifying to delivering antioxidants. Just be sure to cleanse skin before application so you can reap the full rewards.
Borage oil face cream
Light moisturizers containing the oil hydrate while delivering other skin-boosting ingredients. Your moisturizer is the most important product to protect your skin against transdermal water loss, so adding borage oil to this critical moisture delivery system is a great choice. Time Bomb’s Glory Days Day Cream contains this essential oil.
Your skin essentially “eats” whatever you put on it, so it would stand to reason that you want to use products and cosmetics with the best skin-loving ingredients. Try cosmetics containing borage oil for an extra boost to your makeup, such as bareMinerals’ Gen Nude Eyeshadow Palette. Always be sure to apply makeup with brushes and gentle sponges so you don’t pull or tug at the skin, which can cause premature lines and wrinkles.
The scalp is part of the skin, so borage oil products are useful here as well. In addition to helping with dermatitis, eczema, and other skin conditions, the circulation-stimulating and calming benefits of borage increase your scalp health and deliver youthful vitality to over-stressed strands. Ouai has crafted a hair oil just to address these concerns.
It’s also worth noting that if you prefer your borage oil in its purest form, there are borage oil capsules that can be easily punctured to apply directly to face and skin. The delivery systems for this skin-loving oil are plentiful.
Borage has long-respected healing properties for the skin and body, and this time-tested, healing herb could make all the difference in your skin routine. Why not add the power of this beauty-boosting botanical to your skincare regimen and see what borage can do for you?