Evening Primrose

Eczema is a skin condition that causes a red, itchy, and sometimes painful rash. It’s more common in children, who often grow out of it, but adults can get it too. There’s no cure, and if you’ve ever dealt with eczema, you know how uncomfortable it can be. The most common course of treatment is easing symptoms, often with herbal supplements, such as evening primrose oil.

The evening primrose is a plant that is originally from North America, but it also grows in Europe. It gets its name from the plant’s yellow flowers, which bloom in the evening. The oil is extracted from the seeds. It’s available in capsules, and you can also find it in softgels.  Evening primrose oil is taken from the seeds and has an omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The oil is then put into capsules and taken by mouth. You may also find evening primrose oil in foods and some beauty products.

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A Healer with History, but Limited Evidence

Evening primrose has a history of medicinal uses. Native American traditional uses included using the stem of the plant and the leaf juices to soothe skin inflammation, swelling, and bruises. Use of the oil as a remedy for eczema began in the 1930s. Today, it is still used for skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It’s also been linked to treatment for arthritis, osteoporosis, breast pain, diabetic neuropathy, and menopausal symptoms.

Evening primrose oil was once approved in the UK for eczema and breast pain treatment, but the license was revoked in 2002 because there is insufficient evidence that it works. Today, there is only conflicting evidence that it is effective for eczema.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) lists it as ineffective for treating eczema when taken orally, while a 2013 study found it to be no more effective than placebo (fake pills). However, another 2013 study that gave doses of either 160 mg or 360 mg to children and teens showed that evening primrose oil can be an effective treatment.  

First, Check with Your Doctor

Most people can safely use evening primrose oil for short periods, but there isn’t much evidence for its long-term effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved it as a treatment for any medical conditions. Supplements aren’t regulated in the same way as drugs, so check with your doctor before you use them.

Possible side effects are upset stomach and headache. People who have seizure disorders or take medication for schizophrenia may be at risk for seizures if they take it. If you have any type of bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, evening primrose can increase your risk of bruising and bleeding. The supplement is also not recommended for pregnant women because it may cause complications during pregnancy.

While evening primrose may not be the magic cure for eczema, science can’t say for sure that it won’t help. Future research may make things clearer. Discuss your eczema treatment options with your doctor.