Borage oil is an extract made from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant.

Borage oil is prized for its high gamma linoleic acid (GLA) content. It’s thought that this fatty acid can help reduce inflammation tied to many diseases.

Read on to learn more about the oil’s potential benefits, as well as drawbacks and limitations. Discuss these with your doctor before using borage oil to treat any health condition.

About the borage plant

Notable for its star-shaped blue flowers, this large plant is indigenous to North Africa and the Mediterranean. It’s since been naturalized to North America and Europe. Aptly nicknamed starflower, the plant has edible leaves.

Borage seed oil is thought to hold promise for the following uses:

  • inflammation
  • acne
  • breast pain
  • cardiovascular disease
  • eczema
  • menopause
  • rosacea
  • arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

There is some anecdotal information — but no scientific research — about using borage oil for other conditions, including:

Linolenic acid

As mentioned, borage oil has a high GLA content. GLA is a type of fatty acid that is also found in other seeds and nuts, as well as vegetable oils. Your body converts GLA to prostaglandin E1 (PGE1).

This substance acts like a hormone in your body, helping reduce inflammation tied to skin conditions and cardiovascular concerns. Borage oil has gained a lot of attention because it’s said to have the highest GLA content compared with other seed oils.

Though more research needs to be done, studies on borage oil for its GLA content have backed up some of the anecdotal evidence.

Anti-inflammatory

A 2014 study comparing borage oil, fish oil, and the combination of both found that taking 1.8 grams of borage oil or 2.1 grams of fish oil per day (or both) helped reduce rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms in 74 participants who were observed for 18 months.

The study authors conclude that these oils may be able to replace nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for some people, which would avoid some of the side effects of continuously taking NSAIDs. They also suggest that people with RA may be able to reduce the amount of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs they’re taking.

However, the researchers do note one limitation of their research: By the end of the study, about 45% of participants had dropped out. The remaining participants were mostly male and African American.

The researchers suggest that this result reflects the lack of access to healthcare faced by People of Color in the United States, because people who can’t purchase health insurance or get access to conventional medicine may be more likely to remain in a study that provides a form of treatment.

Skin barrier

Research on borage oil’s effects on eczema is mixed.

A 2018 review of studies using borage oil topically and other GLA-containing plant oils found that borage oil has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can be beneficial for people with atopic dermatitis.

In a separate 2013 review of the effect of borage oil taken by mouth, researchers concluded that it showed no more benefits for people with eczema than placebos, based on an analysis of 19 related studies.

This indicates that clinical research shows more promise with topical borage oil for skin conditions, compared with oral versions.

Other possible uses

Other possible uses of borage oil may be for:

  • adrenal gland problems
  • arthritis
  • gingivitis
  • heart conditions
  • menopause
  • PMS symptoms

You can find borage oil as an oil made from the plant’s seeds, but you can also find it as nutritional supplements. These may come in capsule or soft gel form, which you take by mouth.

All forms of borage oil contain GLA, which is considered the primary active ingredient. You can find GLA in other oils, such as evening primrose and black currant.

Choosing the right form of borage oil depends on what you’re using it for. Topical products may work best on skin and hair but are not meant to be taken by mouth. Be sure to read the labels for instructions and precautions.

Oral versions may work better for types of inflammation, including in vascular health.

While borage oil is generally considered safe, it does have potential side effects.

Common oral supplement side effects

Oral borage oil supplements can still pose the risk of minor side effects. Though there isn’t research to confirm them, some side effects may include:

  • bloating
  • burping
  • headache
  • indigestion
  • gas
  • nausea
  • vomiting

In addition, long-term use of oral borage oil can have potential long-term side effects and is not recommended.

Allergic reaction signs

GLAs and borage oil aren’t supposed to be toxic. However, you should call your doctor if you suspect any signs of an allergic reaction, such as:

  • hives
  • rash
  • swelling
  • sudden fatigue
  • dizziness

If you experience breathing difficulties, call 911 or the emergency service in the country you live in.

Less common, serious side effects

Talk with a healthcare professional before use if you:

  • have liver disease
  • are taking medications that affect your liver
  • are taking medications that alter the ability of your blood to clot

Report any use of borage to your doctor, especially before any surgery.

Although anecdotal reviews of borage oil have raised concerns over its carcinogenic effects, there are only traces of pyrrolizidine alkaloid compounds after processing.

Caution

Some formulas of borage oil may still pose liver health effects, so be sure that any products you ingest are certified as hepatotoxic PA-free.

Additionally, there have been documented cases of seizures related to excess borage oil consumption.

In one case from 2011, a woman’s sudden seizures were connected with her consumption of 1,500 to 3,000 milligrams of borage oil every day for a week. This condition is marked by several seizures that last at least 5 minutes at a time, back to back.

While this case alone doesn’t definitively mean that oral borage oil causes seizures, it does provide an example of why you ought to use caution when taking herbs, especially by mouth. There isn’t enough research to say these are safe.

Topical borage oil must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying it to your skin. Always check with a doctor before using borage oil.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Mix up to 12 drops of borage oil for every 1 ounce of almond, jojoba, or olive oil before use.
  2. Apply the oil to the affected area in a thin layer twice per day.
  3. Another option is to coat or spot-dab an undershirt with the oil and wear the shirt close to your skin. This can be useful for areas on the back, as suggested by 2007 research. Still, check with a doctor before you try this method.

Based on clinical research, it may take several weeks or months for the oil to take full effect, so be patient and apply the product consistently for desired results.

Patch test

It’s also a good idea to do a patch test before using diluted borage oil on a large part of your skin, especially an eczema rash. If you don’t notice any signs of irritation or allergic reaction on a small part of your skin within 48 hours, then diluted borage oil is likely safe for more widespread use.

Dosages

The instructions for taking borage oil by mouth for your skin aren’t so clear-cut. While you might lack GLA in your body as you age, there isn’t a recommended dosage of this fatty acid.

In one small 2000 study, 40 breastfeeding women were given 230 to 460 mg of GLA daily. Another study that same year suggested that 360 mg to 720 mg of GLA may be effective for improving skin health in adults over age 65.

If you buy oral supplements of borage oil, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as there may not be universal standards of dosage. Always check with a doctor before you begin using it.

Also, if you’re deficient in vitamin C and other micronutrients like zinc and magnesium, your body may not be able to absorb borage oil and other sources of GLA. This is because vitamins are essential in lipid (fat) metabolism, as shown by research from as far back as 1982.

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Want to know more about borage oil? Get the FAQs below.

Does borage oil help hair grow?

Anecdotally, people swear by borage oil for hair growth. For instance, many users on the Hair Loss Talk online forum discuss its use.

Still, there’s no peer-reviewed evidence to support this purported benefit. However, borage oil may help with scleroderma, which can contribute to hair loss.

Does borage seed oil smell?

Alexander Zuriarrain, quadruple board certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery, says that borage seed can smell like cooked chicken. People don’t typically find it unpleasant.

Is borage seed oil hydrating?

Zuriarrain says borage seed oil provides hydration, which is why it is often found in facial moisturizers, serums, and oils.

A 2017 literature review suggested topical application could improve seborrheic dermatitis and atopic dermatitis in infants and children. Researchers also indicated it could reduce the transepidermal water loss (TEWL) on back skin, keeping it more hydrated.

Is borage oil a dry oil?

Borage oil is considered a dry oil.

“It absorbs very quickly, and it doesn’t feel heavy on the skin,” Zuriarrain says.

Borage oil shows a great deal of promise in reducing inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation is one of the underlying causes of numerous conditions, including eczema and cardiovascular disease.

Such effects, however, aren’t entirely conclusive. Use caution with borage oil and speak with a doctor or pharmacist before use.