Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Vitamin F

Dermatologists say it helps with everything from acne to dry skin.

Woman applying eye cream

Caroline Tompkins / Refinery29 for Getty Images 

The overwhelming opinion within the skincare community is that vitamin F should be your skin's new BFF. But what is it? Well, in short, vitamin F is fat. In skincare, vitamin F is used to represent linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that is rich in omega-6. Fats are also known as lipids, and they're incredibly important when it comes to maintaining a strong, healthy stratum corneum (the protective outer layer of the skin). If your skin barrier function is working optimally, it'll prevent aggressors from getting in and causing water loss.

"Vitamin F is made up of two essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid which together help regulate and promote healthy function of our body, including playing a major role in the health of our skin," says David Petrillo, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Perfect Image skincare.

We spoke to Petrillo and dermatologists Annie Gonzalez, MD, and Stacy Chimento, MD, of Miami's Riverchase Dermatology; to learn more about vitamin F and its benefits for skin.

Vitamin F

  • Type of ingredient: Vitamin, fatty acid
  • Main benefits: Hydrates, replenishes, is high in antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory, restores the skin's barrier.
  • Who should use it: In general, all skin types would benefit from vitamin F usage, but especially those with acneic skin.
  • How often can you use it?: Vitamin F is safe to use twice a day, morning and night.
  • Works well with: Hydrators, linoleic acid, anti-aging products, and SPF products.
  • Don't use with: In general, vitamin F can be used with all ingredients safely.

What Is Vitamin F?

Vitamin F would seem to be, well, a vitamin—but it's actually not, at least not by standard definition. It more accurately fits the description of a fat, essential fatty acid, or lipid. "[Vitamin F] is a term that refers to the combination of two essential fatty acids: linoleic acid (LA) and linolenic acid (ALA) which offer a wealth of health benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved cardiac health, mental health support, and controlled blood sugar" says Gonzalez.

Vitamin F can be sourced in a multitude of food choices, such as almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and egg yolks, and can also be found in a handful of essential oils such as rosehip, chia, and argan. These days, though, it can be slathered on the skin via creams, oils, and potions laden with the ingredient. "Until now, the usual source of Vitamin F was our diet, until skincare came to the rescue—and topical Vitamin F has become a novel and exciting source of it," says Gonzalez.

Benefits of Vitamin F for Skin

• Retains moisture: Considered an omega-6 essential fatty acid, vitamin F becomes ceramide when used on the skin, a hydrating ingredient that also protects the skin's barrier and retains moisture.

• Reduces inflammation: Vitamin F can be exceptionally beneficial for those with inflammatory skin issues, such as dermatitis and psoriasis. "[Vitamin F] helps reduce inflammation as well as regulate healthy cell function, and excessive water loss," says Petrillo.

Combats acne: Studies show that those who experience acne were able to reduce the pustule size by 25% in as little as one month by applying linoleic acid topically.

Protects skin from UV rays: One of the important benefits of Vitamin F is its ability to convert into compounds which exhibit inflammatory and immune properties that may alter the cellular response of our skin towards ultraviolet light, notes Petrillo. "This essentially means it can help minimize inflammation and boost recovery from environmental exposure which damage healthy skin cells, and provide an added layer of systemic photo-protection, for those days you forget to apply sunscreen," he says.

Fights psoriasis: "[Vitamin F] is best for patients with highly sensitive skin and conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne prone individuals," says Chimento.

Blocks irritants: Vitamin F is also know as linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid used to make ceramides which help to build the outermost layer of the skin. "They provide the 'cement' to keep the cells together to block out irritants, infection UV light, pollutants and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties," explains Chimento.

Provides a youthful glow: In general, says Gonzalez, anyone looking for healthier and younger-looking complexion can benefit from frequent use of fatty acids like Vitamin F, "in order to avoid dryness, rough texture, irritation, allergies, inflammation, and other signs of aging."

Calms compromised skin: Gonzalez notes that Vitamin F is "phenomenal" for those with chronic skin conditions "characterized by a compromised skin barrier function," as it calms inflammation and soothes troubled skin.

Side Effects of Vitamin F

Vitamin F has no known side effects—provided you use it as directed. "It can be used morning or night," says Chimento, "however, if the product contains a retinol or vitamin A component, it is best to use at bedtime." That's because retinol and vitamin A products can cause redness or drying. So exercise caution.

How to Use It

Vitamin F can be found in various forms and is incorporated in many different skincare products. From serums to oils to creams, vitamin F is a valuable ingredient that many brands are utilizing. The proper way to use it varies depending on the product, but the pure form of the oil can be used both morning and night as part of your daily routine. As a general rule of thumb, it's best to start slow. "As a topical, it can be used one to two times per day," says Petrillo. "But it is best to start off with once per day to see how your skin reacts to it before increasing frequency."

Alternately, you can create your own mask by mixing vitamin F into a mild face cream or serum. "Add the oil directly to the portion you will be adding to your skin—not to the entire jar or bottle as you can disrupt the concentrations of the ingredients in your product and potentially decrease the half life," says Petrillo. "Make sure to leave the mask on long enough to allow the ingredients to penetrate the skin."

The Best Products With Vitamin F

True Botanicals Calm Pure Radiance Oil
True Botanicals Calm Pure Radiance Oil $110
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Featuring oils packed with vitamin F such as chia, hemp, and rosehip, this Radiance Oil by True Botanicals comes highly recommended by Gonzalez, who commends it for its "good ratio of omega fatty acids."

Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil
Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil $56
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This Pai cleansing oil includes potent vitamin F components, such as sunflower seed oil and rosehip oil. What's even more impressive—this cleanser also won the Byrdie Eco Beauty Award for 2019. Safe for all skin types, Light Work gently and effectively removes all makeup and debris from the day.

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F $18
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"Vitamin F is best introduced into the skin with oil based serums or products rather than water based topicals so it’s important to chose high grade products," says Chimento, who adds that The Ordinary's Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F is a go-to.

Deep Crease Serum
Perricone MD Essential FX Acyl-Glutathione Deep Crease Serum $179 $107
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Chimento recommends Perricone MD's Deep Crease Serum—a potent product that targets deep-set wrinkles such as marionette lines and nasolabial folds—for use morning or night.

Omega+ Complex Serum
Paula's Choice Omega + Complex Serum $37
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Fortified with omega fatty acids, this serum works to reduce environmental damage. "I recommend daily-use omega-rich serums once to twice daily," says Gonzalez. "You can layer them with other serums both morning or evenings."

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 $128
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This anti-aging cream recommended by Gonzalez works to nourish dry skin and fill in fine lines with a patented ratio of 2% pure ceramides 1 and 3, 4% natural cholesterol, and 2% fatty acids. In other words? It's scientifically backed to provide an allover glow.

Drunk Elephant F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial
Drunk Elephant F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial Mask $52
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This overnight mask—a Gonzalez pick—cools and hydrates the skin with fatty acids from Vitamin F, a blend of electrolytes, and niacinamide to improve signs of aging like fine lines and discoloration.

Up Next: Everything you've ever wanted to know about ceramides.

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