There are so many different supplements out there recommended to help clear acne. But, there are two that are consistently recommended to people struggling with their skin. These are cod liver oil (CLO) and fish oil. The two are often mistaken for being the same thing, (often, I’ll have people tell me they take fish oil, but really they’re taking cod liver oil). The truth is that although the two supplements both come from fish, they actually work in different ways. The differences between the two supplements will be important to consider on your journey to clear skin. I’m here to help you get clarity on the cod liver oil vs fish oil debate! So if you’re undecided about whether cod liver oil or fish oil would be best for you, keep reading.
What are Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil supplements?
Cod liver oil comes from the liver of cod fish. Whereas fish oil is obtained from the tissues of oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or anchovies. Because the oils come from different fish, and different parts of the fish, they have different levels of nutrients within the oil that you’re taking. This is what is important to consider when looking at which supplement may be best for you.
Nutrient levels of Cod Liver Oil vs Fish Oil
Because cod liver oil comes from the liver of the fish, it naturally contains high levels of both vitamin A and vitamin D alongside omega-3 fatty acids. Cod liver oil tends to be recommended for skin conditions because of its naturally high vitamin A and D levels. Both of these nutrients help to reduce inflammation, support skin cell health and regulate skin cell turnover.
The combination of omega-3 with Vitamin A & D sounds pretty good?!
Fish oil on the other hand, just contains omega-3. However, the difference between the two is that the omega-3 levels of fish oil are much higher. High-quality fish oils can give you a dose of around 1g-2g of EPA and DHA. Whereas cod liver is more around the levels of 100-200mg of both EPA and DHA.
Which one you choose will depend on what your aims are.
What the research says
When it comes to looking specifically at skin conditions, there’s a lot more research around fish oil supplements and high-dose omega-3.
Cod liver oil does contain the anti-inflammatory fatty acids, EPA & DHA so it will help to reduce inflammation. Traditionally, it was recommended to children to help with their development and prevent the occurrence of rickets (due to its vitamin D content!). However, in more severe cases of acne, or with hormonal conditions, we need to be looking at around a dose of 1g-2g of essential fatty acids. You can’t get this dose from cod liver oil.
Another thing to consider is that Vitamin A isn’t actually suitable for everyone. For example, cod liver oil isn’t recommended for pregnant, or breastfeeding women. As well, if you are on Accutane, you need to avoid vitamin A supplementation.
The benefits of Omega-3 for acne
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which will be particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic, inflamed acne. These essential fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, redness, and swelling associated with acne breakouts. But some other benefits include:
- Maintaining healthy hydration within the skin
- Regulating sebum (oil) production within the skin
- Supporting healthy hormones
- Supporting blood glucose control & insulin sensitivity
- Supporting cardiovascular health (you need good circulation for healthy skin)
These other benefits are a lot of the common underlying causes of acne. Which is why I tend to sway more towards fish oil supplements.
A note on quality
As always with supplements, the quality matters. When it comes to fish oil and cod liver oil, we need to make sure that companies are taking the correct measurements to maintain the potency of the product, and prevent it from going rancid – which means the structure of the essential fatty acids has changed (and not for the better!). You won’t get many benefits from rancid oil, it may even contribute to inflammation, which is exactly what you don’t want.
Fish oils should be obtained from smaller fish in the food chain, this is to ensure they are low in pollutants such as mercury. But further processing can be done to remove heavy metals and toxins that may naturally be in the fish from our polluted waters, unfortunately. Additionally, good quality fish oils will be sustainably sourced and batch-tested for purity.
So, which one should you choose?
As always with supplements, I think it’s best to speak to a healthcare practitioner to help decide which supplement and dosage is best for you. If someone doesn’t really have a chronic skin condition, and just wants general overall skin support, they could take cod liver oil because of the vitamin A & D content. But, if someone is struggling with chronic, inflamed acne, alongside hormonal imbalances I believe fish oil will give the best benefit. And if we need additional vitamin D, we can tailor that in as a separate supplement, or in some cases use a multivitamin alongside the fish oil. But to conclude the cod liver oil vs fish debate, in my clinic, I always recommend fish oil.