Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), sometimes called “the night willow herb,” is a flowering plant. It’s also a night owl, blooming at sunset instead of sunrise. The oil pressed from its seeds, aka evening primrose oil (EPO), is a gentle carrier oil.
EPO has a long history as a natural health remedy. It’s been hailed as everything from a hair loss solution to a cure for acne. It can be ingested, applied alone as a topical balm, or blended with other carrier oils for skin care formulations.
What are the benefits and uses of evening primrose oil?
Folks use EPO for several reasons:
- soothing skin probs
- preventing hair loss
- calming bruises
- healing hemorrhoids
- taming digestive woes
- easing sore throats
More on the research-backed benefits below!
EPO’s good work is thanks to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid that reduces inflammation. Below, we dig into 13 science-supported perks of adding EPO to your daily routine.
Natural health and fertility sites often recommend EPO to accelerate babymaking. The idea is that the GLA in the oil improves cervical mucus and egg quality just like other omega fatty acids do.
A recent study also found that EPO can help treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is a common barrier to getting pregnant.
More research is needed, but if you’re trying to get pregnant, ask your doctor about EPO. Makes sense to add these healthy fats to your diet.
How to use it
Buy a quality EPO supplement and start with the smallest recommended dosage. But buyer beware — if you do get pregnant, stop taking EPO stat. The National Institutes of Health says it could “increase the risk of some complications of pregnancy.”
Hormone-related sweats and hot flashes are the worst, so we’re here for any science-backed remedies. EPO to the rescue!
A 2013 study found that menopausal women who took daily EPO supplements for 6 weeks reported fewer hot flashes — and the ones they did have were way less fiery. Even better? The women said cooling their hot flashes also improved lifestyle factors like social interactions and lovemaking.
That said, a recent review of all the current studies on EPO for menopause couldn’t find evidence that EPO reduces the frequency or severity of hot flashes. But the researchers noted some evidence for it soothing overall menopause symptoms.
How to use it
Stock up on enough EPO to take 500 mg (milligrams) twice a day for 6 weeks.
Deal with breakouts on the reg? EPO could be your new BFF. The GLA ingredient soothes inflammation while the oil itself adds a dewy glow.
In one promising 2014 study, 45 people with acne had fewer lesions after taking GLA. Just keep in mind that the research sample is *super* small, so we need more studies to confirm this benefit.
Some research suggests EPO also soothes cheilitis, a swollen, red rash around your lips caused by isotretinoin (aka Accutane, a common anti-acne drug).
How to use it
To see the same benefits as research participants, stick with the regimen as long as they did. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
In the cheilitis study, participants took six 450-mg pills full of EPO 3 times a day for 8 weeks. In the GLA study, participants took two capsules containing 200 mg of GLA twice a day for 10 weeks.
The research is thin, but EPO fans say it can soothe eczema or other skin irritation.
In one practically retro study (throwback to 1991!), researchers found that the GLA in EPO nourishes the top layer of skin, which gets inflamed by eczema.
And 2017 research on rats found that EPO (and even more so, EPO mixed with rosemary oil) helped relieve symptoms of eczema. Of course, animals are not people, so take this with a grain of salt.
How to use it
If you’re interested in giving EPO a whirl based on slim evidence, you have a couple of options. You could take the recommended dose of an EPO supplement. You could also apply the oil directly to your eczema as a salve.
To use directly on your skin, apply about 1 milliliter of just 20 percent EPO no more than twice a day. It’s also a good idea to talk with your dermatologist first, since they’ll know if EPO is a safe match with your regular treatment.
Skin feeling a little “meh” these days? EPO’s healthy helping of GLA is known to improve elasticity, firmness, moisture — all the good stuff.
There are a couple of ways to use GLA for your complexion:
EPO supplements. A 2005 study suggests taking EPO boosts your body’s stores of skin-nourishing GLA (a fatty acid your skin can’t produce on its own). A 2011 study affirmed this when participants with dry skin noticed an improvement after noshing on GLA-rich foods.
Skin care formulations with EPO. A 2018 study found that moisturizing cream made from the ceramides in EPO helped skin maintain moisture and prevent water loss.
How to use it
- Take 500 mg EPO capsules 2 to 3 times a day for up to 12 weeks.
- You could also snack on GLA-rich foods like hemp seeds, oats, and spirulina.
- Finally, you can apply EPO directly to your skin as a topical treatment. Just do a patch test first!
In a recent research review, experts found that oral intake of 4 grams or less of EPO per day could significantly increase levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in blood. That’s good news for your heart.
Since heart disease is often linked to inflammation and cholesterol probs, EPO might indirectly reduce your risk of heart disease.
How to use it
If you’re worried about your heart health, check with your doc before dosing on EPO. In general, it’s best to start with the smallest recommended dose of a new-to-you supplement.
The jury’s still out on this one, but some research indicates that EPO could lower blood pressure.
A 2020 animal study suggests that EPO can reduce oxidative stress and help regulate cholesterol and systolic blood pressure. High blood pressure raises your risk of heart disease, so this is another vote for EPO’s heart-healthy powers.
How to use it
If your doctor gives you the green light, start with a standard EPO supplement dose (about 500 mg) twice a day. Avoid other blood pressure meds or supplements when taking EPO.
There’s dated research that EPO could relieve PMS symptoms like irritability, moodiness, and even bloating. Again, it’s because of GLA, which triggers a chemical reaction that seems to prevent PMS.
A 2010 study further affirmed that supplements containing EPO (but also packed with vitamin B6 and vitamin E) helped with PMS. Of course, we don’t know whether the EPO or other vitamins deserve the credit.
How to use it
You know the drill — start with the smallest dose possible and work up to relieve your symptoms. For PMS, that could be anywhere from 500–6,000 mg 1 to 4 times a day.
Your emotions might not be the only thing that gets a little sensitive when the crimson tide rolls. If your boobs get achy on the reg, EPO could help.
Research suggests the GLA in EPO reduces inflammation, which causes PMS-related boob pain. And a 2017 study found that EPO is more effective than vitamin E at managing PMS symptoms like painful tatas.
TBH, not all studies come to the same conclusion about this — and some suggest that it takes several months to notice a difference — but in most cases, EPO has been more soothing than the placebo.
You already know the GLA in EPO is anti-inflammatory, which means it has the potential to soothe all kinds of aches — boob pain, joint pain, and so on.
In a large, double-blind clinical study, taking EPO supplements for 3 months reduced participants’ joint pain and inflammation.
A review of the research further backed up claims that a dose of EPO a day keeps arthritis away. Bonus — it didn’t seem to cause any side effects!
How to use it
Take a cue from the research and take 560–6,000 mg of EPO a day for at least 3 months (and up to a year).
Health conditions like diabetes often come with an unhelpful side of nerve pain, tingling, weakness, and sensitivity to extreme temps. The good news is that GLA soothes damaged nerve symptoms.
In a 2014 study of 70 people with diabetes, participants who took EPO and vitamin E for a year experienced a reduction in nerve pain. Recent research suggests EPO could dial down that pain in as little as 3 months.
Whether you’re losing hair by the handful or are looking to give your locks a little extra “oomph,” EPO could help.
Research is still limited, but the arachidonic acid in EPO has been known to boost your hair growth potential. And again, GLA’s anti-inflammatory powers could help make your scalp a happier, healthier environment for your hair.
You’ll find EPO in heaps of weight loss supplements, but what does science say? Not much, TBH.
As you know by now, EPO contains GLA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid. Research suggests balancing your omega-3 and omega-6 intake reduces your risk of obesity. So yeah, in a way, keeping those fatty acids balanced is part of maintaining a healthy weight.
But claims beyond that just don’t hold weight (pun intended!). Even older studies suggest EPO doesn’t make a difference in weight loss efforts.
There’s been enough research on EPO to consider it generally safe for short-term use. But remember, supplements are a pretty unregulated industry. They don’t fall under FDA monitoring, so there could be issues with quality and dosing suggestions.
Take these precautions to lower your risks
- Purchase any EPO from reliable, well-researched companies.
- Check to make sure your product has a certificate of analysis (COA) for the batch you’re buying, which guarantees you’re getting what you paid for (no toxic fillers, for instance).
- Beware sellers mislabeling EPO as an essential oil — it’s a carrier oil.
- Start with the lowest dose to help prevent side effects.
- Avoid EPO while pregnant.
- Avoid EPO if you’re on blood pressure meds.
- Check with your doctor before you start any supplement or herb.
As for side effects, every rose has its thorn, right? Here are the most common:
- soft or sludgy poop
- upset stomach or stomach pains
If you’re allergic to other flowering plants or oils, be cautious about ingesting EPO. Watch for these signs of an allergic reaction:
- swelling or redness in your hands or feet
- trouble breathing
- whistling cough or other wheezing sounds
Seek medical attention ASAP if your reaction is severe.
Some folks recommend using EPO in the late stages of pregnancy to induce labor. That’s because it’s known to soften the cervix, which basically makes the pregnant person’s body ready to usher out le bébé.
That said, a 2018 study found no difference in the timing or duration of labor between women with full-term pregnancies who dosed on EPO for 7 days and the ones who didn’t.
While some older research (’90s, y’all) suggested that EPO could cause delivery complications, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it “may be safe” for pregnant peeps.
Bottom line: We don’t know if it’s an effective or safe way to speed up labor. Your best bet is to talk with your doctor before popping EPO pills while preggo.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) has been used as a remedy for inflammation and several other skin and health conditions for years. More research is necessary to recommend it as a clinical treatment.
EPO combined with vitamin E could alleviate symptoms, but it shouldn’t replace meds recommended by your doctor.
Always use the lowest dose possible to reduce your risk of side effects. Talk with your doctor about the EPO method and dosage best for your specific health needs.