My Hormonal Breakouts Are History — Thanks To Evening Primrose Oil

Registered Yoga Teacher By Mary Spirito
Registered Yoga Teacher
A yoga Instructor with experience in neuroscience and cancer research, Mary Spirito has explored wellness both under a microscope and on the mat. She graduated with a B.S. in biology from the College of Charleston.

Photo by Leandro Crespi

A couple of years ago, after feeling like my once daily birth control pill was causing fatigue, I consulted my doctor and decided to toss the pack for an IUD. All seemed well and good in IUD land, I didn’t feel tears threaten to come on at tug-on-your-heart-strings commercials (as much), and I felt clearheaded and energized without the artificial hormone coursing through my veins. That is, until I woke up one day with not one but TWO unwelcome visitors on my chin.

Does going off the pill mean you're destined to have problem skin?

Having been on birth control since I was 14 to help regulate my cycle—and having had fairly clear skin my whole life—I hadn’t really witnessed what my skin could do when left to its own devices. But I really didn’t anticipate that in my mid-20s I was going to be experiencing the woes of cystic acne. Naturally, I freaked the f*#$ out and tore through the internet looking for answers. I don’t remember exactly where I read it, but somewhere in the stratosphere of the World Wide Web I read that Kate Bosworth took an evening primrose oil (EPO) supplement to balance the effect of hormones on the skin. (Celebrities, they’re just like us!)

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Would EPO be the answer to my cystic breakouts?

I was intrigued by EPO, and it checked all of my boxes: nonsynthetic, herbal, no apparent side effects or contradictions to my supplements or medications, and I’d be attacking the root of the problem—hormone imbalance. I gave it a go and added the recommended dose of evening primrose oil to my supplement roster. In four days or so, the cysts had noticeable improved. I thought it might have been a coincidence, but over the next couple of weeks of taking EPO daily, my skin had its own Cinderella story. The cysts were a problem of yesteryear, and my skin had adopted a glow and suppleness that I thought I had left behind in my college years. About three months into my love affair with EPO, I ran out of the supplement and went on living my life, blissfully unaware. Like clockwork, after one week sans EPO a new cyst began to form. Not only that, I noticed that I seemed to feel more irritable than normal. Curious as to how evening primrose oil could have such an effect, I investigated the mechanism behind the oil.

I wondered: How does evening primrose oil work so well?

The oil extracted from the seeds of the evening primrose flower is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, specifically, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and linolenic acid (LA). Because the main source of omega-6 fatty acids is from vegetable oils, which are plentiful in the standard American diet and promote the immune system’s inflammatory response, they tend to get a bad rap, but it's not omega-6s themselves that are bad. (In fact, they support brain development and immune function.) The inflammatory response goes awry only when the ratio of omega-6 far exceeds that of omega-3—the exception being gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is the anti-inflammatory superstar of the omega-6 fatty acids and is present in high concentrations in EPO. GLA controls the release of agents that cause an inflammatory response and is a power player in hormone regulation. The high GLA content in evening primrose oil packed a punch, and it was just what I needed to combat my hormone imbalance. The breakout that cropped up during my hiatus was enough to convince me, and with a few clicks, a new bottle was en route and my nerves were at bay.

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What is the best type of EPO supplement?

EPO has been a mainstay on my supplement roster for two years now, and by using it in conjunction with stress regulation, a healthy diet, and regular exercise, I have been able to keep my hormones balanced, my mood stable, and my skin glowing. For an evening primrose oil supplement, look for the GLA content to be 8 percent or more. Be sure to check the label to make sure the supplement is non-GMO, hypoallergenic, gluten-free, and free from additives. Stay balanced, my friends!

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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