Essential fatty acids for atopic dermatitis

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are being studied in relation to atopic dermatitis. EFAs help the body produce compounds that are important in regulating many body functions, including defense against disease.

The theory behind EFA therapy is that by increasing the amount of EFAs in the diet, the immune system may function better, thus reducing atopic dermatitis. This theory is not scientifically proven.

Evening primrose oil is a source of EFAs. It is sometimes taken to improve atopic dermatitis. But studies have shown that primrose oil does not significantly improve atopic dermatitis symptoms.1 Noted side effects include headache and nausea.

If you choose to take an EFA to treat atopic dermatitis, tell your health professional so that it can be recorded and considered in your medical history.


  1. Sidbury R, Hanifin J (2000). Systemic therapy of atopic dermatitis. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, 25(7): 559–566.

Last Updated: May 5, 2008

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

Medical Review: Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine

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