Flax seeds are often described as a “superfood,” and for good reason!
These tiny little seeds are loaded with health-promoting fiber, omega-3 fats, vitamins, and minerals.
It’s no secret that flax seeds come with plenty of health benefits, but you may be wondering if they’ll help improve your skin.
Keep reading to learn more flax seeds, their benefits for skin, and how to include them in your diet.
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What are flax seeds?
Flax seeds (also called linseed) are small, brown seeds produced from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum L.) (1).
People have been eating flax seeds since ancient times, when they were prized both as a food and for their medicinal properties (1).
They are slightly crunchy and have a nutty taste that pairs especially well with baked goods and desserts.
Flax seeds are high in fat and can be processed into flaxseed oil, which is very high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (1).
What nutrients do flax seeds provide?
Four tablespoons of ground flax seed (about 30 grams) provides the following nutrients (2, 3):
- Calories: 150
- Carbs: 8 grams
- Fiber: 8 grams
- Protein: 5 grams
- Fat: 12 grams
- Omega-3: 6.4 grams
- Calcium: 71 mg (5% DV)
- Iron: 1.6 mg (9% DV)
- Phosphorus: 180 mg (14% DV)
- Magnesium: 110 mg (26% DV)
- Potassium: 228 mg (5% DV)
- Zinc: 1.2 mg (11% DV)
- Copper: 0.3 mg (33% DV)
- Manganese: 0.7 mg (30% DV)
- Selenium: 7.1 mcg (13% DV)
- Thiamin: 0.5 mg (42% DV)
- Folate: 24 mcg (6% DV)
What are flax seeds’ benefits for skin?
1. May improve acne
People with acne tend to have higher levels of androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) (4, 5).
These hormones stimulate cells in the skin to produce sebum, an oily substance that can mix with dead skin cells to block pores and form pimples (6, 7).
Flax seeds are a rich source of phytoestrogens, a group of plant compounds that have a similar structure to estrogen and may impact hormone function in the body (8).
Lignans, the type of phytoestrogen found in flax seeds, might help lower levels of androgen hormones, which could theoretically improve acne symptoms (8).
Several trials in men with prostate cancer showed lower testosterone levels after supplementation with flax seed (30 grams per day) for at least one month (9, 10).
Other studies have found no significant effect on androgen hormone levels, so more research is needed (11, 12, 13).
Even if they don’t have any effect on hormones, flax seeds may still help improve acne for other reasons, such as their high fiber and zinc content (14, 15).
2. Acts as a moisturizer
Flax seeds contain linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that promotes the formation of ceramides in the skin (2, 16).
Ceramides, which make up about 50% of the skin’s outer layer, are a type of lipid (fat) that helps create a barrier to lock in moisture (17, 18).
Results from one trial suggest that consuming flaxseed oil might help strengthen the skin barrier and prevent moisture loss (19).
Women who received 4 capsules (about 2 grams) per day for 12 weeks showed significant decreases in skin roughness and scaling, while smoothness and hydration were increased (19).
However, due to the small sample size (13 participants), it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this study (19).
It’s also unlikely that supplementing with flaxseed oil would result in any dramatic improvements to the skin unless you’re deficient in linoleic acid (20).
3. May reduce inflammation
Flax seeds contain many beneficial compounds, including α-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that acts as an anti-inflammatory and reduces the risk of certain diseases (21, 22, 23).
Just one tablespoon of flaxseed oil provides 7 grams of ALA — that’s over 400% of the recommended daily intake (24, 25).
In a study in mice with atopic dermatitis (also called eczema), applying fermented flax oil to the skin resulted in reduced redness, swelling, and itchiness (26).
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any studies in humans that have evaluated the effects of flaxseed oil on the skin.
But we do know that consuming flax seeds lowers inflammation in the body overall, which could potentially lead to skin improvements (21, 27).
Do they have any other benefits?
1. Reduces breast cancer risk
Consuming flax seeds has been linked with a lower risk of breast cancer (28, 29).
In one study, women who ate flaxseed had a 20-30% reduction in breast cancer risk, compared to those who never ate flaxseed (30).
There are several nutrients in flax seeds that may be responsible for its cancer-fighting properties, including lignans, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber (31).
Flax seeds are the richest food source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that can bind to estrogen receptors on breast tissue cells and may prevent tumor growth (31).
They’re also very high in omega-3s and fiber, both of which have been associated with reduced breast cancer risk (31, 32, 33).
2. Lowers cholesterol
Flax seeds contain plenty of soluble fiber, a type of fiber that binds to bile salts (the main components of bile) and is then excreted by the body (1).
This helps lower cholesterol levels, because the body is forced to take cholesterol from the blood to make new bile salts (34).
In one study, patients who consumed 30 grams of ground flaxseed per day experienced a 15% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels after just one month (35).
Another study found that flaxseed oil significantly reduced levels of small, dense LDL, a type of cholesterol that may increase the risk of heart disease more than other types (36, 37, 38).
Researchers believe the omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seeds might be partially responsible for these effects (36).
3. Improves blood sugar control
Research has shown that ground flaxseed supplementation lowers blood sugars and improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose from the blood (39).
This can be helpful for people with type 2 diabetes who have insulin resistance, a condition in which cells don’t respond well to insulin (40).
Flaxseed oil doesn’t seem to have the same effect, probably because it lacks fiber, which slows down the release of sugar into the blood after meals (39).
4. Alleviates constipation
Flax seeds may help alleviate constipation due to their high fiber content and the healthy oils they contain, which can help lubricate and soften the stool (41).
Four tablespoons of ground flaxseed contains 8 grams of fiber — that’s nearly 30% of the recommended daily intake (2, 3).
In a 2020 trial, participants with constipation who consumed 50 grams (about 7 tablespoons) of flaxseed per day increased their number of weekly bowel movements from 2 to 7, on average (41).
Another study found that flaxseed was more effective than psyllium (the active ingredient in Metamucil) for decreasing constipation symptoms (42).
5. Helps with weight loss
Research suggests that flaxseed supplementation may promote weight loss and lead to a reduced waist circumference (43).
This may be the result of flax seeds’ fiber, which increases satiety (the feeling of fullness after meals) by slowing down digestion (43).
Additionally, one study found that compounds in flax seeds helped prevent obesity in rats by improving their response to leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite (44).
However, don’t expect to lose a lot of weight — the average weight loss was only about 2 pounds, even after 12 weeks (43).
6. Lowers blood pressure
Strong evidence suggests that flaxseed can help lower blood pressure (BP) in both healthy people and those with hypertension (high BP).
A 2016 meta-analysis of 15 studies found a significant reduction in both systolic BP (-2.85 mmHg) and diastolic BP (-2.39 mmHg) in participants who consumed flaxseed (45).
Best results were achieved with doses of at least 30 grams (4 tablespoons) of ground flaxseed per day when taken for 12 weeks or more (45, 46, 47).
Scientists aren’t sure exactly how flaxseed lowers BP, but it may be due to a type of lignan called secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), which acts similarly to certain blood pressure-lowering drugs (45).
What type of flax seeds should you use?
There are two main varieties of flax seeds: brown and golden (or yellow).
Some companies claim that yellow flax seeds are healthier, but they provide about the same nutrients and health benefits as brown flax seeds (48, 49).
Nutritionally, what matters most is whether you’re using ground (also called “milled”) or whole flax seeds.
Due to their hard outer shells, whole flax seeds are difficult to digest. Studies show that flax seeds must be ground in order for their omega-3s to be absorbed and used by the body (50).
You can make your own ground flaxseed by grinding whole flax seeds in a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder until they reach your desired consistency.
Ground flax seeds are also available in most grocery stores and can be purchased online here and here.
Flaxseed oil is a bit more difficult to find but may be available in the supplement section of some health food stores and can be purchased online here.
Always store ground flax seeds and flaxseed oil in a cool, dark pantry or refrigerator, because they contain fats that are easily degraded by heat (51).
How to include flax seeds in your diet
There are plenty of easy ways to include flax seeds or flaxseed oil in your meals. Try the following:
- Swirl into smoothies or sprinkle on smoothie bowls.
- Stir into oatmeal along with some almond butter and blueberries.
- Add to cookies, muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods.
- Sprinkle on yogurt parfaits along with fresh fruit.
- Make a flax egg for a convenient vegan egg replacement.
- Use in lieu of flour or cornstarch to thicken soups.
- Mix into meatloaf or meatballs in place of breadcrumbs.
- Make salad dressing using flaxseed oil.
- Use flax milk to make homemade lattes.
How much flaxseed should you eat?
Flaxseed doses range from 7 to 50 grams in clinical trials, with most studies finding a benefit for at least 30 grams (about 4 tablespoons) (43, 45, 52).
Doses higher than 50 grams (about 7 tablespoons) may cause excessive gas and bloating, especially if you’re not drinking enough water.
If you’re not used to eating flax seeds, start with just one tablespoon per day for the first week, then slowly increase the amount each week until you reach your desired dose.
Flaxseed oil should be used more sparingly because it is very calorie-dense — a single tablespoon provides 120 calories (24).
Safety & side effects
1. May increase gas and bloating
The most common side effect of eating flax seeds is gas and bloating, because they’re very high in fiber (2).
Gas is a totally natural response to increased fiber consumption, and can typically be seen as a sign that your gut bacteria are happy and well-fed (53).
To help your gut adjust to the extra fiber, start with one tablespoon of flax seeds and slowly increase your intake over a period of several weeks.
2. May impair mineral absorption
Flax seeds contain phytic acid, a chemical found in many foods that reduces the absorption of certain minerals, including iron and zinc (54, 55).
However, some research suggests that it has less of an effect on mineral absorption in people who regularly consume foods high in phytic acid (56).
Phytic acid also acts as an antioxidant and may play a role in preventing chronic diseases, including colon cancer (57, 58).
The bottom line is phytic acid usually isn’t a concern for people who follow a well-balanced diet.
3. Concerns during pregnancy
There are a lot of mixed messages regarding the safety of flax seeds for pregnancy.
These concerns are mostly based on one animal study, which found that flaxseed consumption in pregnant mice increased the risk of breast cancer in their offspring (59).
However, the researchers used very high doses of flaxseed, and there’s no evidence confirming these effects in humans.
In the United States, flax seeds are generally recommended as part of a healthy, balanced diet for those who are pregnant (60).
Flax seeds are excellent sources of many important nutrients, especially fiber and omega-3s, and may have have benefits for skin health.
More research is needed, but they may help protect against acne by lowering levels of androgens, a group of hormones that increase oil production on the skin.
Flaxseed oil in particular may also improve skin health by acting as a moisturizer and lowering inflammation.
Other potential health benefits of flax seeds include reducing breast cancer risk, alleviating constipation, improving blood sugar control, and lowering blood pressure.
To add flax seeds to your diet, try stirring them into oatmeal, smoothies, and baked goods, or use them to replace breadcrumbs in other recipes.