Borage seed oil - the benefits and how to use it

Borage seed oil: why this ingredient could be your new dry skin saviour

Posted by for Beauty

Promising to treat everything from dry skin to eczema and psoriasis, borage seed oil (or starflower oil) is making waves in the skincare sphere. Here’s all you need to know about the buzz ingredient…

Coconut, argan, rosehip, tea tree – you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the only beauty-boosting wonder oils worth knowing about. But, while it’s fair to say these play a starring role in the skincare aisles, nature’s brimming with other mega ingredients deserving of a place in your routine.

One that’s making big waves in 2020 is borage oil (also known as borage seed oil or starflower oil). This golden elixir boasts one seriously incredible super-power. “It’s rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA),” explains Dr Pauline Hili, fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and founder of Nourish London.

“A type of omega-6 fatty acid, this is excellent at improving our skin’s essential protective barrier,” she adds. In fact, borage oil has over double the GLA of evening primrose oil – an oil commonly associated with potent levels.

Borage seed oil will treat all kinds of skin inflammation including eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and rosacea. If you’re just feeling dry, you’ll love its calming, nourishing, redness-erasing prowess. It’s also useful in helping calm acne and it’s lighter than many other oils so won’t leave your face feeling greasy.

Leading celebrity facialist Renée Rouleau says it’s one of her favourite moisturising ingredients alongside oils like soybean, sweet almond and sunflower oil.

It also works particularly well alongside olive oil, almond oil and linseed oil so make a beeline for formulas boasting all four. 

Borage seed oil has even been associated with curing hangovers. One study found it reduced the effects when taken orally as part of a supplement also containing fish oil, vitamins B1, B6 and C, prickly pear and a type of milk thistle.

In short? If you’re prone to overdoing the actives or your skin’s craving some TLC, borage oil could be the instant soothing solution you’ve been looking for.

Scroll down for our guide to the ingredient and our pick of the best borage seed oil hero products…

What is borage oil or borage seed oil?

Borage oil comes from the borago officinalis plant that is native to the Mediterranean. The plant (adored by bees) is otherwise known as ‘starflower’ thanks to its beautiful blue star-shaped flowers that accompany the distinctive fuzzy red stems. The entire plant, including the flowers, leaves and seeds, are often used medicinally (dubbed the ‘herb of gladness’ because it used to be used to treat depression). But the oil itself comes from pressing the seeds, hence its interchangeable name ‘borage seed oil.’

The oil is a golden yellow colour and can be used both topically in skincare and orally in supplements or cooking.

What are the benefits of using borage seed oil?

The key benefit of borage seed oil is its sky-high concentration of a type of essential fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Blackcurrant oil and evening primrose oil are often lauded as excellent sources of this, but borage oil actually boasts almost twice the concentration, gram for gram. We’re talking around 17-20% GLA in borage oil vs evening primrose oil’s 7-10%.

This makes it a saviour at soothing dry skin and boosting the skin’s natural moisture barrier leaving it more smooth, plump, supple and radiant.

It’s also brilliant at treating skin conditions involving inflammation particularly eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

Can borage seed oil be used for all skin types?

Absolutely! Dry skin types will benefit the most from borage seed oil as it’ll nourish skin with that all-important oil it’s lacking. But borage oil can also be useful in skin types with acne.

One study showed mild acne sufferers saw a 25% reduction in microcomedones (the clogged pores that later show up as spots) after applying linolenic acid (that borage oil is so rich in) for a month.

You might shudder at the mere thought of an oil if your skin’s naturally grease-prone but hear us out. Borage is much lighter and less comedogenic (pore-blocking) than many others such as coconut oil or polarising palm oil.

In fact, it’s often dubbed a ‘dry oil’ since it absorbs super-quickly and feels featherlight on the skin.

How to use borage seed oil

If you’re after an oral dose of borage oil, it’s available in capsule supplements or as liquids that can be added to salads, dips, soups and smoothies.

In skincare, you’ll often find it sold as a pure oil – for use on the face, body and hair – or alongside other ingredients as part of a serum, face oil blend, moisturiser or even within a nourishing cleanser.

When and how often should borage seed oil be used?

There are no rules for when to use borage seed oil. If you’re taking it orally as a supplement, most contain between 1000mg and 1500mg and are to be taken once a day.

In skincare, you can use it both morning and night although, as with all oils, you may find you prefer to pop it on before bed to avoid interfering with your make-up.

It works well as the final ‘sealing’ step in your evening routine, locking in all the goodness from your other skincare products.

Is borage seed oil safe to use and what are the side effects?

There’s still more research that needs to be done since the studies are relatively limited compared to some more commonly used skincare ingredients. But so far, borage oil appears very safe to use, with minimal side effects. If you want to take it orally, as with most supplements, it’s best to consult your doctor first.  

Best borage seed oil products

  • The best affordable borage seed oil

    Deciem The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold Pressed Borage Seed Oil

    The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil

    If you’re a borage oil newbie, this is a good place to start. Promising to ‘nourish and calm irritated or dry skin types,’ it’s solely made up of pure borago officinalis seed oil (borage seed oil).

    Just a few drops will blend across the entire face and you’ll quickly notice a more radiant, plumper complexion that’s eased of any irritation.

    Its only downfall? A potent fishy smell that makes it best used at night when you’re less likely to notice it lingering.

    The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Seed Oil, £4.25

  • Best natural borage seed oil

    Haeckels Borage Seed Oil

    Haeckels Borage Seed Oil

    This is another super-affordable pick – only this time without an unusual aroma. Simply pop a few drops onto your hair or face for quick relief from irritation or any tight post-cleansing discomfort.

    Boasting 100% natural, organic and vegan credentials, it’s just what you’d expect from the exciting indie brand that has sustainability as its heart. Founded in 2012 by volunteer beach warden Dom Bridges, Haeckels started with a focus on seaweed-rich products but now offers a line-up of all kinds of skincare wonders from sea buckthorn oil to broccoli seed oil. 

    Haeckels Borage Seed Oil, £7.50

  • Best multi-use borage oil

    Fushi Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Oil

    Its versatility is the biggest plus point of this multi-purpose hero product. It can be applied topically to your face, hair or body and the hefty 100ml bottle makes it easy to slather it on all over.

    It’s also safe to use in your food and cooking, too. With a creamy, nutty flavour, it works as a salad dressing or taken alone in one to three teaspoons with food.

    We love that it’s homegrown, too. The borage is cultivated on a farm in Sussex while the seeds are pressed in Lincoln.

    Fushi Organic Cold-Pressed Borage Oil, £18

  • Best borage oil face serum

    Neal's Yard Soothing Starflower Daily Essence

    Neal’s Yard Soothing Starflower Daily Essence

    This fragrance-free gem makes use of borage’s incredible skin-soothing powers. The light-as-air texture absorbs quickly but feels cosseting and instantly calming. It’s perfect if your skin is craving comfort but you’re not a fan of rich creams and balms, or during summer when you’re after a barely-there consistency.

    Borage along with aloe vera, alpine flower and hyaluronic acid makes for an ultra-hydrating blend. Use it alone after cleansing and toning or follow up with Neal’s Yard Soothing Starflower Daily Moisture, £25 – a gentle moisturising lotion.

    Neal’s Yard Soothing Starflower Daily Essence, £17.50

  • Best borage oil soothing balm

    REN Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm

    REN Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm

    Fussy, sensitive skin will adore this instant repair balm that helps knock irritation out of skin. It has a unique balm-to-oil texture that feels seriously indulgent when massaged in just before you hit the sack. There’s no need to worry about marks on your pillow, though, since it quickly penetrates.

    It uses that special olive, almond, borage and linseed combination – only activated with enzymes to make it nourish skin even more effectively.

    Skin looks and feels relieved and more resilient.

    REN Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm, £40

  • Best borage oil face mask

    Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Hydrating Treatment Mask

    Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Hydrating Treatment Mask

    Consider this an essential item for your skin emergency first aid kit. Targeting very dry or rosacea-prone skin, it’s loaded with the richest plant oils and fatty acids including borage, evening primrose oil and olive oil.

    Together, they replenish areas of rough, flaky or compromised skin.

    The creamy texture quickly quells discomfort so your complexion’s left bouncy, hydrated and more even in tone. Use it once or twice weekly or whenever you need a quick fix.

    Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Hydrating Treatment Mask, £23

  • Best borage oil cleanser

    Bare Minerals Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil

    Bare Minerals Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil

    If you’re yet to try removing your make-up with an oil cleanser, we’d urge you to give this one a whirl. It whisks away every scrap of slap without leaving skin feeling stripped. In fact, it does the very opposite, leaving it silky, smooth and calm thanks to borage, sunflower and bilberry oil.

    Simply add a little water and let it transform into a weightless, milky emulsion that can be rinsed away easily without leaving a greasy film in its wake.

    In tests, 88% of women said it promoted healthy-looking skin.

    bareMinerals Oil Obsessed Total Cleansing Oil, £20.79

  • Best gel cleanser with borage oil

    Fresh Soy Face Cleanser

    Fresh Soy Face Cleanser

    If you’re after the nourishing action of an oil but favour a light gel texture, make a beeline for this award-winner. It’s gained cult status in the skincare industry since it’s extra-gentle but still super-effective at banishing grime and make-up.

    Borage joins a whole host of goodies including soy proteins, rosewater and cucumber extract so it puts back as much as it takes away.

    It’s just the ticket if you’re wanting to indulge in something plusher than a classic face washes but still love the clean, zingy feeling they deliver.

    Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, £30

  • Best borage oil facial oil blend

    Nourish London Radiance Firming Facial Oil

    Nourish Radiance Firming Facial Oil

    There’s a lot to love about this 98% organic oil that feels a whole lot more luxurious than its price tag might suggest. 

    The formula itself makes use of rosehip, pumpkin seed and macadamia oil to deeply hydrate and regenerate. Immediately, skin is left luminous and more youthful and over time, you’ll see extra firming benefits, too.

    Work a few drops in using a massaging action with your fingertips to amp up the results.

    Nourish Radiance Firming Facial Oil, £25

  • Best borage oil supplement

    Holland & Barrett Starflower Oil and Vitamin B6 Capsule Supplements

    Holland & Barrett Starflower Oil with Vitamin B6 50 Capsules

    While there’s still more research to be done into the effects of borage oil on hormonal imbalances, it’s often lauded as an alternative to evening primrose oil for those suffering from PMS or issues related to the menopause.

    These capsules contain 1000mg of borage oil as well as 0.25mg of vitamin B6. They’re easy to swallow and there’s no nasty after-taste.

    Take one per day, preferably with a meal.

    Holland & Barrett Starflower Oil with Vitamin B6 50 Capsules, £13.99

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