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Doing things in the name of skin is kind of my motto. I’ll admittedly try just about anything for a major glow-up in the skin department. On the other hand, I love makeup. My overwhelmingly stocked vanity, full of a lifetime supply of foundation and about 500 lipsticks and counting, proves it. But I’ve never wanted to depend on makeup to make me feel beautiful.
Recently, though, I’ve found myself more and more apprehensive about going out in public makeup-less, which has me turning to my liquid foundation far too often. It started with my move to New York, which triggered an unexpected battle with acne. As soon as I turned 23 and packed my overweight suitcase, my skin turned on me. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, and to be honest, I’m still searching for answers. I’ve gone through cleanser after cleanser in search of the one that won’t leave me with irritated whiteheads. I even stopped eating meat and completely changed my diet in hopes that it’d help my skin. So the moment I caught on to the craze that is cod liver oil, which purportedly has insane skin benefits, I was game to try it.
Keep scrolling to find out how fish oil changed my complexion.
What Is Cod Liver Oil?
"Cod liver oil is extracted from the liver of codfish," says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist practicing at New York City's Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. In other words, it's extracted similarly to another all-star skincare ingredient: fish oil, though that comes from different types of fish. "Fish oil comes from the flesh of various different types of fatty fish like herring, mackerel, anchovies or others," notes Murphy-Rose.
As a dietary supplement, cod liver is available in capsule form or raw and unprocessed oil form. Most supplement bottles will tell you that a common dose is one to two teaspoons per day (any more than that, and you'd likely be ingesting too much of a good thing). "It’s important to caution readers to be careful not to consume too much vitamin A and D and to discuss with a medical provider before starting any new dietary supplements," says Murphy-Rose.
Benefits Associated With Cod Liver Oil
- Decreases hyperpigmentation
- Decreases inflammation
- Balances cholesterol and blood pressure
The internet is full of countless articles singing cod liver oil’s praises, saying it has transformative powers when it comes to skin. My mom even told me it’s something the “old folks” have consumed for years for all of its health and skin benefits.
According to Margarita Lolis, MD, board-certified dermatologist, cod liver oil in liquid form is excellent for hyperpigmentation, especially in the form of acne scarring and discoloration from repeated facial breakouts. “It’s also great for elbows and knees given hyperpigmentation can appear here as well. It contains vitamin A, D, and omega-3 fatty acids, which is what helps with skin,” Lolis explains.
Those fatty acids are key, as they contain a world of good-for-your-skin benefits. "Omega-3 fatty acids have several likely skin benefits, including reducing inflammation, which can improve various skin conditions like acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema, and enhancing skin barrier function, which may aid skin hydration," says Murphy-Rose.
I have tried just about everything to fade my dark spots, so after thorough research on the best form of cod liver oil, I readily went to my local health store and grabbed Carlson Wild Norwegian Cod Liver Oil ($40).
What to Expect from Cod Liver Oil
One thing I wasn’t willing to do is take a shot of something that tasted like fish every single morning. What a horrible start to my day. So I opted for this popular choice, which has a light lemon flavor. After a week or so, the appearance of my skin was noticeably brighter and less dull. I have inherently dry skin and felt a subtle difference in its texture—slightly more moisturized, brighter, and more awake, you could say. That was a plus. I’m all for a good morning routine, so it wasn’t hard to incorporate a shot of this stuff alongside my morning lemon water for 30 days. By week two, I didn’t see much of a difference with my hyperpigmentation, but, knowing I’m impatient, I stuck to my daily shot, holding on to hope.
I use a plethora of correctors, hydrating creams, and oils to lighten my dark spots every single day. But I will say that by week three, my acne scars didn’t look as profound on my skin. They’re still there, but they’re fading little by little.
Cod Liver Oil vs. Fish Oil
If it seems strikingly similar to fish oil, that's because, well, it (technically) is. But just because cod liver oil also comes from fish doesn't mean it has the same chemical makeup.
"Both cod liver oil and fish oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can provide many health benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting mood and combatting depression, improving blood triglyceride levels, and lowering blood pressure," says Murphy-Rose. But cod liver oil has additional benefits, too. "Cod liver oil, unlike fish oil, provides a rich dietary source of the vitamins A and D, which are associated with additional skin benefits. These include preventing signs of skin aging, improving skin healing, and regulating skin cell turnover which can reduce acne breakouts, improve dry skin, and smooth bumpy skin in those with keratosis pilaris."
While I didn't experience any side effects during my cod liver oil experiment, I checked in with Lolis to see if there are any common side effects worth mentioning to someone before starting on their own journey. "There could be GI side effects, such as heartburn due to the breakdown in the stomach or loose stool due to high-fat absorption." She also warns that bad breath could occur since you are drinking fish oil, but that's nothing a little mouthwash or mints can't solve.
The Final Takeaway
I’m not sure what the culprit was for my slight success—it could be thanks to my skincare products or the fish oil shots, but either way, I’m not complaining. Lolis reassured me that just like anything with the body, we can't expect to see results overnight. I’m right at the end of my one-month journey with fish oil, and even though I haven’t seen grandiose changes in my skin, I’m going to stick with it. With my face, I’ve learned to accept the smaller-scaled wins. I’ll take brighter, more moisturized skin over what I was dealing with any day.
Shen T, Xing G, Zhu J, et al. Effects of 12-week supplementation of marine Omega-3 PUFA-based formulation Omega3Q10 in older adults with prehypertension and/or elevated blood cholesterol. Lipids Health Dis. 2017;16(1):253. doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0617-0