Evening Primrose Oil for Skin: Benefits and How to Use

Oil dropper in the sunlight.

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The sheer number of skincare oils out there is enough to make anyone's head spin. And while sure, there are some universal properties across the board (any oil, essentially by definition, is going to help soften and moisturize the skin), the dizzying array of options most certainly aren't created equal. These plant-based oils all come with varying nuances that are often very subtle, but that can make a big difference when it comes to finding the one that's best-suited for your particular skin and complexion concerns.

We asked Sheila Farhang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, and Krupa Koestline, a clean cosmetic chemist, to tell us all about one such oil: evening primrose.

Meet the Expert

  • Sheila Farhang, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Tucson, Arizona.
  • Krupa Koestline is a clean cosmetic chemist and the founder of KKT Consultants.

If your concerns happen to include dryness and redness, evening primrose oil just may be your new favorite product. Keep reading to learn more.

Evening Primrose Oil

Type of ingredient: Plant-based oil

Main benefits: Moisturizes and softens the skin, and has anti-inflammatory properties that can make it a good choice for those with conditions such as eczema, says Farhang

Who should use it: Anyone with dry, irritated, or inflamed skin

How often can you use it: Daily

Works well with: Evening primrose oil works well with other plant-based oils, as well as in oil formulations that contain potentially irritating ingredients such as retinol, says Koestline.

Don't use with: According to the experts we spoke with, there are no ingredients known to interact negatively with evening primrose oil.

What Is Evening Primrose Oil?

Evening primrose oil, or EPO, is an oil derived from the seeds of the evening primrose plant, Oenothera biennis, says Koestline. The plant has a long history of skincare use: "Native Americans used the stem and leaf juices as topical remedies to soothe cutaneous inflammations, and poultices of the plant were used to treat bruises and minor wounds," she adds.

Benefits of Evening Primrose Oil for Skin

The seeds of the evening primrose oil plant (and therefore the oil that comes from them) are rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid, says Koestline. (In fact, the seeds contain up to 25 percent fatty acids.) It's this fatty acid profile that is largely responsible for its beneficial effects on the skin.

  • Has anti-inflammatory properties: "Linoleic acid is anti-inflammatory, so this oil can help with some dermatologic conditions, such as eczema," says Farhang. Similarly, it may help tamp down redness, she adds. The one caveat? "Although the oil has been used for centuries for conditions such as atopic dermatitis, there has been little evidence to prove its effectiveness," notes Koestline. Point being, this is a situation where the benefits are more anecdotal, rather than scientifically proven.
  • Is deeply moisturizing: That being said, there's no question when it comes to whether or not evening primrose oil is a good solution for dry skin. "It's a very thick oil that helps improve skin's moisture by reducing transepidermal water loss, or TEWL," says Farhang. To that point, Koestline notes that it's really great for people with dry skin.
  • May help even skin tone: "There are some claims that EPO can brighten skin tone and help with acne scarring, but I think there are better ingredients out there for those purposes," says Farhang. Koestline agrees, saying that there are some signs indicating that the high concentration of linoleic acid can help even out skin tone, but there aren't enough clear-cut studies to support this claim.

Side Effects of Evening Primrose Oil for Skin

Evening primrose oil's thick consistency means that it's not a great option for those with very oily or acneic skin. Farhang says it falls in the middle range of comedogenicity (AKA pore-clogging potential), and as such cautions against it for these skin types.

It also bears mentioning that evening primrose oil is commonly used as an oral supplement for PMS, she says. (There are studies supporting its benefits for this purpose.) "It's mainly the oral version that is contraindicated in pregnant women, but I'd avoid the topical, too," advises Farhang. "Some commercial formulations may contain other phytoestrogens, so I would also suggest those who have a history of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer, avoid excessive use as well." Other than that, while an allergy is always possible, both experts agree that there aren't many documented side effects and sensitivities to this oil are low.

How to Use Evening Primrose Oil for Skin

If you're using evening primrose oil solo, apply it onto slightly damp skin. If you're using it in conjunction with other serums or moisturizers, make it the final step in your routine; the oil will seal in all the moisture from the other products. And if you're nervous about it feeling too heavy, Koestline suggests applying it while you're in the shower (the steam will help it penetrate), then patting off any excess. Another top tip: Farhang says evening primrose oil is a great option to use for facial gua sha, as it helps the tool glide very smoothly along the skin.

The Best Skincare Products With Evening Primrose Oil

Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Serum
Tata Harper Concentrated Brightening Serum $315.00
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Yes, this is a pricey pick, but, as Koestline says, "a little goes a long way." She lauds the formula for being COSMOS NATURAL, meaning a third party has audited the ingredients, ingredient sourcing, and manufacturing process. And that's important when it comes to a plant-based oil such as EPO, as you want to ensure you're getting the purest version possible in order to reap the full effects.

mara
Mara Evening Primrose + Green Tea Algae Retinol Oil $120.00
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"This is a fantastic nighttime face oil with retinol and vitamin A sourced from plant extracts," says Koestline of another one of her picks. "In addition to EPO, there are other calming ingredients as well to prevent retinol from irritating your skin."

Sunday Riley CEO Glow
Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil $80.00
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While the radiance-boosting benefits of evening primrose oil are still up for debate, that's certainly not the case with vitamin C, the star of the show here that helps even skin tone. Farhang likes that the EPO is paired with turmeric, another great anti-inflammatory ingredient, and adds that this is one she really likes using with a gua sha tool.

8 Faces
8 Faces Boundless Solid Oil $88.00
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Don't love traditional oils? Try a solid. "Solid oils are fantastic, especially if you’re traveling. Simply rub it in your hands for a moment to let it melt before applying it on your skin," says Koestline. She's a fan of this one in particular because it's loaded with antioxidants and tons of anti-inflammatory ingredients (yes, EPO included) that soothe, moisturize, and calm the skin.

Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Oil
Youth To The People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Oil $44.00
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Even though it contains evening primrose oil, which is admittedly thicker and heavier, the final formulation of this blend is surprisingly lightweight and non-greasy. "It's a great starter oil for anyone who is nervous about incorporating an oil into their skincare routine," says Farhang.

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Eye
Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Eye Cream $42.00
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While Farhang says this won't replace a good anti-aging eye cream, it is a solid choice if you're just after hydration and soothing. You can also try layering it with an anti-aging formula—it can help complement and/or grab onto it, especially if your eye area is looking and feeling dry, she explains.

Violet's Ultra Violet Serum
Violets Are Blue Ultra Violet Facial Serum $58.00
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Dealing with super dry skin? Koestline suggests reaching for this guy. "It's formulated for dry, typically mature skin, but despite the rich formula it still absorbs really quickly," she explains. Plus, evening primrose oil is the first ingredient on the list, so you know you're getting a hefty dose of the good stuff.

Article Sources
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  1. Evening primrose oil (Epo) information | mount sinai - new york. Mount Sinai Health System.

  2. Mahboubi M. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil in management of female ailmentsJ Menopausal Med. 2019;25(2):74-82.

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