What is evening primrose oil?

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

Evening primrose has a history of medicinal uses. Native Americans traditionally used the stem of the plant and the juices of its leaves to soothe skin inflammation, swelling, and bruises. Use of the oil as a remedy for eczema began in the 1930s. Eczema is a skin condition that causes a red, itchy, and sometimes painful rash. The Mayo Clinic reports that it’s more common in children, who often grow out of it, but adults can also get it. There’s no cure. 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.

Evening primrose oil is also a treatment for psoriasis and acne. It’s been linked to treatment for arthritis, osteoporosis, breast pain, diabetic neuropathy, and menopausal symptoms.

The United Kingdom once approved evening primrose oil for eczema and breast pain treatment, but they revoked the license in 2002 due to insufficient evidence that it works. Today, there’s conflicting evidence that it is effective for treating eczema.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine lists it as ineffective for treating eczema when taken orally, and a 2013 study found it to be no more effective than placebo pills. However, another 2013 study found that doses of either 160 mg or 360 mg given to children and teens were an effective treatment.

Pregnant women should never use this supplement because it may cause complications such as miscarriage and induced labor during pregnancy. Breastfeeding women should also avoid evening primrose oil.

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. They’re not regulated for quality, so it’s possible for supplements to be contaminated. You should check with your doctor before you use them.

Possible side effects of evening primrose oil 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.

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.