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    Skin barrier benefits of sunflower seed oil

    Natural oils have been used as topical treatments for the skin from the earliest recorded history.[i] Sunflowers (Helianthus annus) are native to the southwest and have been used as food, medicine, and for ornamental purposes for generations.[ii]

    Sunflower seed oil is rich in linoleic acid, and has been used topically in the treatment of essential fatty-acid deficiency, rapidly reversing the disease with its excellent transcutaneous absorption.[iii] More locally, these essential fatty acids can help maintain the skin barrier and decrease transepidermal water loss, both important features in thinking about skin problems such as atopic dermatitis.[iv] There is some thought that preparations with higher amounts of linoleic acid versus oleic acid may be more beneficial in this role and some clinical data that bears this out.[v]

    Several studies have also suggested that sunflower seed oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Linoleic acid is the major lipid that converts to arachidonic acid, which leads to prostaglandin E2, an inflammatory modulator, possibly via peroxisome proliferative-activated receptor-a (PPAR-a) activation. These anti-inflammatory aspects are very compelling for our menagerie of inflammatory dermatoses. [v]

    There is a rather amazing and somewhat bizarre line of evidence for the skin barrier enhancing properties of sunflower seed oil. A study of 497 pre-term infants deemed high-risk for sepsis were given three times daily application of sunflower seed oil versus a petroleum-based moisturizer, versus standard of care (no topical agent) to see if improving the skin barrier would prevent systemic infection. Indeed, sunflower seed oil reduced sepsis by 41 percent, with a 26 percent reduction in mortality, significantly better than no treatment and similar to the effect of the petroleum-based moisturizer, but at a fraction of the cost.[vi] No adverse events were reported, suggesting that sunflower seed oil is pretty safe, even in these most vulnerable premature infants.

    Peter Lio, M.D.
    Peter Lio, M.D., is assistant professor of clinical dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, ...

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    • DanPopowski
      Dr. Lio, Great article on sunflower seed oil. I am puzzled by the study with 22 preterm infants that showed an increase in TEWL and an overall decrease in skin barrier maturation. Do you think it is possible they used high oleic SSO that seems to be more available than regular high linoleic acid SSO? Any way of verifying this? Also, in immature skin wouldn't the decrease in skin pH be beneficial as it would be closer to physiological pH of acid mantle. Thanks. Dan

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