Clinical reports have attributed the amelioration of chronic inflammatory skin disorders to the presence of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in dietary oils.

To test the hypothesis of a local modulatory effect of these PUFA in the epidermis, the basal diet of normal guinea pigs was supplemented with ethyl esters of either fish oil [rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] or borage oil [rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)].

Our data demonstrated that dietary oils influence the distribution of PUFA in epidermal phospholipids and the epidermal levels of PUFA-derived hydroxy fatty acids. Specifically, animals supplemented with ethyl esters of fish oil markedly incorporated EPA and DHA into epidermal phospholipids, which paralleled the epidermal accumulation of 15-hydroxyeicosapentaenoic acid (15-HEPE) and 17-hydroxydocosahexaenoic acid (17-HDoHE). Similarly, animals supplemented with esters of borage oil preferentially incorporated dihomogammalinolenic acid (DGLA), the epidermal elongase product of GLA, into the epidermal phospholipids, which also was accompanied by epidermal accumulation of 15-hydroxyeicosatrienoic acid (15-HETrE). By factoring the epidermal levels of the 15-lipoxygenase products and their relative inhibitory potencies, we evolved a measure of the overall potential of dietary oils to exert local anti-inflammatory effect. For example, the leukotriene inhibition potentials (LIP) of both fish oil and borage oil were greatly enhanced when compared to controls.

Thus, the altered profiles of epidermal 15-lipoxygenase products generated from particular dietary oils may be responsible, at least in part, for reported ameliorative effects of oils on chronic inflammatory skin disorders.