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What is evening primrose oil?

The evening primrose is a yellow flower that grows in the United States and part of Europe. The plant has traditionally been used as a wound-healing and hormone-balancing remedy.

Its healing benefits may be due to its high gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) content. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid with potent anti-inflammatory properties. What we know about GLA suggests that EPO could be a powerful acne-fighting agent.

Read on to learn how EPO works, which types of acne may benefit most, how to add the oil to your skin care routine, and more.

EPO supplements and topical products work by bringing your body’s fatty acid ratio into balance. It’s almost impossible to get the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty chain acids that your body needs through diet alone.

The evening primrose plant contains high amounts of the omega-6 fatty acid GLA. When your body breaks down GLA, it creates another ingredient called dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). And when DGLA levels in your body increase, research shows that inflammation in your body goes down.

This suggests that EPO may naturally suppress inflammation that can cause or worsen some acne symptoms.

We don’t know much about how effective this mechanism is compared to prescription acne medication. More clinical trials are needed to understand how efficient EPO may be over time in fighting different kinds of breakouts.

EPO may be an effective treatment measure for pimples, nodules, and blackheads. It can also keep skin from becoming overly dry, which is a common side effect of certain acne medications.

As for hormonal acne, cystic acne, and scarring, the evidence is less clear.

Anecdotally, there’s reason to believe that EPO can help treat cystic acne caused by an infection deep underneath the skin or by fluctuating hormones.

Some Native American cultures have used evening primrose to speed wound healing, so there’s reason to believe it could work for this purpose. But so far there’s little clinical evidence to support using EPO to reduce the appearance of acne scarring.

Oral supplements are the go-to approach when using EPO to treat acne. You may wish to start with supplements and see how they work for you before adding a topical solution to your routine.

People who may be advised against taking these supplements, such as children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, may be able to use topical EPO instead.

Supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

You should only buy from manufacturers you trust. Researching the brand and reading product reviews can help you assess the manufacturer and decide whether a product is worth trying.

You should also follow the dosing instructions on the product label. The average supplement dose is 1,300 milligrams (mg) taken once daily.

If your product suggests a dose that’s much higher or much lower, talk to your doctor before use. They can confirm whether the recommend dose is appropriate.

Possible side effects and risks

Some people experience minor side effects, such as upset stomach and headache, when taking EPO.

You can reduce your risk of side effects by starting with a low dose and gradually working your way up to the full amount. Taking the supplement with food may also be helpful.

It’s unclear what the maximum dosage for EPO is. It all depends on how much of its active ingredient, GLA, is in the supplement. Although we don’t have a clear intake limit for GLA, 640 mg per day is the highest amount that’s been studied.

You should talk to your doctor before use if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you’re breastfeeding
  • you have a history of hormone-sensitive cancers
  • you take blood thinners, antidepressants, or blood pressure medications

As well, check with your child’s doctor before giving your child EPO supplements.


Always check with your doctor before adding a supplement to your routine. They can discuss your individual risk of side effects and interaction with other medications you’re taking.

Your doctor may also be able to recommend a trusted supplement brand.

You can usually find EPO supplements at your local drug store or natural food store. They’re also widely available through online retailers.

Popular options include:

You can apply EPO topically. Just make sure you look for a pure oil.

You should also do a patch test before adding the product to your routine. This allows you to determine how your skin will react to the product while also minimizing the extent of any potential irritation.

To do a patch test:

  1. Rub a dime-sized amount of product into the inside of your forearm.
  2. Cover the area with a bandage.
  3. Check the area again in 24 hours. If you aren’t experiencing any redness, swelling, or other discomfort, the product should be safe to apply elsewhere.

If your patch test is successful, you can add EPO to your skin care routine. How you use it is entirely up to you.

You can use EPO as:

  • a spot treatment for individual blemishes
  • a serum for widespread inflammation
  • an ingredient in an oil-cleansing solution
  • an ingredient in a moisturizing solution

If you’re trying to treat an active breakout, you may find that a spot treatment best meets your needs: All you need to do is rub a drop or two into the affected areas. You can add a few more drops to provide more widespread coverage or as needed.

You can also mix EPO with other acne-fighting ingredients for maximum effect. If you aren’t sure where to start, rose and rosehip oils are great options. Learn about these and other acne-fighting face oils.

When you apply EPO depends on your method of choice.

As a general rule of thumb, daytime oils should be applied after sunscreen but before makeup. Be sure to skip the moisturizer on days that you use EPO — the mix of oil and moisturizer may interfere with your sunscreen’s efficacy.

If you prefer to use face oils in the evening, you should apply the oil before your moisturizer. You can even use EPO in place of your usual moisturizer or add a couple of drops to your moisturizer for added benefits.

Possible side effects and risks

Some people may experience mild irritation when using topical EPO. The only way to determine how your skin will react is to do a patch test prior to full application.

Although EPO is generally safe to apply as is, people with sensitive skin may find pure EPO to be too potent. Mixing EPO with another carrier oil, like jojoba oil, in a 1:1 ratio can help prevent discomfort.

Some people may also find that adding EPO to their routine leads to more breakouts. This is known as purging. Although it can be frustrating, it’s possible with any product that you add to your routine. Purging typically resolves within six weeks — about the same time that you should start to see noticeable improvements as a result of topical care.

You shouldn’t use topical EPO if you’re allergic to evening primrose or other plants in the Onagraceae family.

Although topical EPO typically doesn’t pose the same risks as oral EPO, you should still check with your doctor before use if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you’re breastfeeding
  • you have a history of hormone-sensitive cancers
  • you take blood thinners, antidepressants, or blood pressure medications

Again, consult your child’s doctor to see if it’s safe for your child to use a topical EPO product.


Remember to do a patch test before trying a full topical application of a new product.

If you want to stick to pure EPO, popular options include:

Some products combine EPO with other ingredients for maximum benefits. Popular options include:

EPO is a widely available and relatively low-risk acne treatment.

You can find pure EPO and EPO-based products at your local pharmacy or health food store, or online. Be sure to purchase only from trusted manufacturers, and follow all package instructions.

If you aren’t seeing results with home remedies or over-the-counter products, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about trying out proven prescription-strength acne medication.

If you do decide to try EPO, give it time. Even in successful studies, it took up to 12 weeks before participants began to see results.