Let’s take a deeper look at Evening Primrose and Borage

Let’s take a deeper look at Evening Primrose and Borage

Making the right choice!

By Danielle Sade B.Sc., CAHP-AM
Reviewed by Chris Carrothers CAHP-AM, RRPr.


This article discusses the qualities of Borage (Borago officinalis) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil, with a particular emphasis on cold-pressed oil production.  Both oils include a high concentration of Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has numerous therapeutic effects when used in topical skincare products. As a result, they are used interchangeably in Aromatherapy. However, this may not be the case regarding decision-making accuracy in the formulation.  

If we take a closer look at the remainder of the fatty acids and unsaponifiable components, we will find that Borage and Evening Primrose are significantly different from one another. Therefore, there may be some decision-making when choosing one of these two carrier oils.

The following information will compare Borage and Evening Primrose oils to provide the reader with a better understanding of each oil profile. This comparison will give a better knowledge of each oil and equip the Aromatherapist to make an informed decision when selecting one of these two carrier oils.

Most of the literature and reviews will summarize Borage (Borago officinalis) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) as follows; Humans are not capable of synthesizing GLA. Therefore, relying on external sources through diet and supplement topical applications. Both Borage and Evening primrose oils have a good range of GLA. Thus, both oils are recommended as dietary and cosmetic supplements to improve skin health and support relieving skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dry, chapped skin, and aging skin.

As we take a closer look at the individual make-up of the two oils, we will find significant differences in the remaining components of the oils, which completely changes our perspective on when and where we should apply these oils.

Comparing both oils based on Fatty Acid content in Borage (Borago officinalis) Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Fatty Acids


Evening Primrose

Lauric acid (C:12) Saturated



Myristic Acid (C:14) Saturated



Palmitic (C:16) Saturated



Behenic acid (C:22) Saturated



Stearic acid (C:18) Saturated



Palmitoleic (C16:1) Omega 7



Oleic acid (C18:1) Omega 9



Linoleic acid (C18:2) Omega 6



Alpha Linolenic (C18:3) Omega 3



Gamma linoleic acid (C18:3) Omega 6



Eicosenoic acid (C20:1) Omega 9



Erucic acid (C: 22:1) Omega 9
Nervonic acid (C24:1) Omega 9

Table 1(Kristi 2020)

The fatty acid profile broadly defines oil properties in terms of stability, skin feel, and skin impacts. The number of double bonds and their arrangement throughout the carbon chain are the most important fatty acid characteristics. The level of unsaturation has a significant effect on the ease of handling. Fatty acids with a higher degree of unsaturation are more quickly oxidized. (Sivamani et al., 2016)

Saturated Fatty Acids (This group of molecules does not include a double bond; and is solid at room temperature)

  • Borage oil is comprised of saturated fatty acids, primarily palmitic acid 8-13% and stearic acid 2-6%.
  • Palmitic acid is used in cosmetics because of its emulsifying and moisturizing characteristics. Stearic acid serves as a protective barrier (Mank & Polonska, 2016) and is shown to aid in wound healing (Khalil et al., 2000).
  • Evening Primrose oil contains approximately half of these saturated compounds, palmitic acid 5-7% and stearic acid 1-3%. With this, we can conclude that Borage oil has a greater potential to help acute wounds and skin care.
Monounsaturated Fat (This group of molecules includes one double bond and is considered to be the Omega 9)
  • Borage oil comprises the following monounsaturated fatty acids oleic acid 14%-20%eicosonoic 3-4%, erucic acid 1-3%, and nervonic acid 1-2%.
  • Evening primrose includes oleic acid 5-10%. This is fifty percent lower than Borage. Also, it does not have any other monounsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated Fats (This group of molecules has two or more double bonds classified as Omega 6 or Omega 3).
  • Evening primrose has 65-80% Linoleic acid, similar to Grapeseed oil. Linoleic acid is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in the sebum of the skin. It also possesses proinflammatory qualities and has been shown to have faster-wound healing in the early stages of wound repair. (Ract et al., 2015). Linoleic acid is essential for the skin because it strengthens the epidermis' lipid barrier, protects against transepidermal water loss, and regulates skin metabolism. (Zielinska et al., 2014) A decrease in the Linoleic content of sebum is observed in acne-prone individuals, resulting in clogged pores and the formation of comedones and eczemas. Linoleic acid is excellent for oily and problematic skin since it enhances sebaceous gland function, unclogs pores, and decreases the number of comedones. (Zielinska et al., 2014)
  • Borage oil has 20-24% of GLA, whereas Evening Primrose has approximately half the amount. This will influence the stability of the oil and its therapeutic value.

Comparing the Phytosterol content in Borage (Borago officinalis)and Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) oils.

Phytosterols are natural substances that belong to the "triterpene" family. Cholesterol is the most abundant sterol in mammals. Phytosterols, which have a structure like cholesterol but a methyl or ethyl group at C-24, are found in plant membranes instead of cholesterol. (Moreau et al., 2002)

Studies suggest that consuming dietary phytosterols enhances and supports general body health; however, there has not been much research done on phytosterols used topically on the skin. The highest concentrations can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. The most common plant sterols are campesterol, beta-Sitosterol, and stigmasterol.

In vitro studies suggest that when phytosterols are applied topically, they positively affect the skin. For instance, it was found that phytosterols can slow down UV-induced lipid peroxidation. Therefore, phytosterols are becoming increasingly popular in cosmetic and medicinal preparations. (Elsner & Bayerl, 2022) 
Phytosterols found in Borage and Evening Primrose are much different from one another.   Evening Primrose has a greater amount of brassica sterol and stigmasterol.   According to A. Dweck 2017, stigmasterol is structurally comparable to cortisone, which may explain why it is anti-inflammatory and reduces erythema. (Dweck, 2017). While Borage oil has a little more diversity in its sterol content, including 24-Methylene cholesterol. Detection of 24-methylene cholesterol is used to examine the authenticity of Borage oil. And what’s really cool is this phytosterol improves honeybee longevity and sustains brood production. (Chakrabarti & Sagili, 2020)


Phytosterols (Kristi)


Evening Primrose
















delta 5 Avensterol



delta 7 Stigmasterol



G5 Avensterol



24- Methylene Cholesterol (This phytosterol improves honeybee longevity and sustains brood production) (Chakrabarti & Sagili, 2020)



  Figure 2 (Kristi 2020)

Comparing the Vitamin E content in Borage (Borago officinalis) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Vitamin E is a category of fat-soluble antioxidants. The vitamin is crucial for our health because it protects fatty acids in our bodies from damaging oxidation. The name vitamin E refers to the entire tocopherol and tocotrienol families. (Aksoz et al., 2020). 
The role of tocopherols in cosmetic products is to act as skin conditioning agents and antioxidants (Dweck 2017). The 2014 Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reported that after 5-hour of pure vitamin E was applied to the skin, it was found in the subcutaneous tissue. Tocopherols were generally found to inhibit UV lipid peroxidation in the skin. When we compare the levels of tocopherols in Evening Primrose and Borage, Borage oil has a higher level of tocopherols.

Total Tocopherols Per mg/Klg grams

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

a-Tocopherol 0 16
b-Tocopherol 52 0
Gamma tocopherol 659 335

Figure 3 Eskin, N.A., 2008.

Comparing the Phenolic compounds in Borage (Borago officinalis) and Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Phenolic compounds are antioxidants and contribute scent, bitterness, astringency, and pungency.    They play a role in sunscreens, anti-aging products, anti-inflammatory products, and medicinal products in the cosmetics industry. (Dias et al., 2020)



% Phenolic Compounds


Borage(Borago officinalis) 50.2% Ferulic Acid also traces caffeic, gallic, and vanillic acid. (Zadernowski et al., 2002) Many skin creams and sunscreens developed for photoprotection contain ferulic acid as an active component. UV repair and protection. It has been used as part of a composition of a cream to help prevent alopecia, seborrhea, and pruritis. (Graf, 1992)
Evening Primrose(Oenothera biennis) Total 58.8% Gallic acid and protocatechuic acid (Zadernowski et al., 2002)  Topically applied Gallic and Protocatechuic acids were found to induce the synthesis of type I collagen. These acids are used in formulations to prevent fine lines due to aging and photoaging (Hwang et al., 2014), (Shin et al., 2019)


As we can see, evening primrose oil has a mild nurturing effect on the skin due to the compatibility of Linoleic fatty acid and high amounts of anti-aging Gallic, Protocatechuic phenolic compounds, and B-Sitosterol. As a result, it may be a better oil to employ in formulations for everyday skincare and anti-aging products.

On the other hand, Borage appears to contain a higher concentration of tocopherols, GLA, and ferulic acid. It is reasonable to conclude that Borage oil would be a better choice for dealing with acute cases of flared-up skin conditions, dry, chapped skin, and when we want a restorative and repair formulation, with the consideration of using the oil for a short-term basis.
So next time you want to choose between Borage and Evening Primrose, consider their differences and and their therapeutic applications.

References and Bibliography

Aksoz, E. et al., 2020. Vitamin E (α‐, β + γ‐ and δ‐tocopherol) levels in plant oils. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 35(5), pp.504–510.

Anstey, A., Quigley, M. & Wilkinson, J.D., 1990. Topical evening primrose oil as treatment for atopic eczema. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 1(4), pp.199–201.

Bergfeld, W.F. & Belsito, ; D.V., 2014. Washington.

Chakrabarti, P. & Sagili, R.R., 2020. Changes in Honeybee Head Proteome in Response to Dietary 24-Methylenecholesterol. Insects, 11(11), p.743.

Dias, R. et al., 2020. Recent advances in extracting phenolic compounds from food and their use in disease prevention and as cosmetics. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 61(7), pp.1130–1151.

Dweck, A., 2017. Formulating Natural Cosmetics Handbook of plants and their phytochemistry 2nd ed., Anthony Dweck.

Elsner, P. & Bayerl, c, 2022. Cosmeceuticals and Active Cosmetics 2nd ed., San Francisco: Taylor & Francis.

Eskin, N.A., 2008. Borage and evening Primrose Oil. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology, 110(7), pp.651–654.

Graf, E., 1992. Antioxidant potential of ferulic acid. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 13(4), pp.435–448.

Hwang, E. et al., 2014. Gallic acid regulates skin photoaging in UVB-exposed fibroblast and hairless mice. Phytotherapy Research, 28(12), pp.1778–1788.


KANEHARA, S. et al., 2007. Clinical effects of undershirts coated with borage oil on children with atopic dermatitis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. The Journal of Dermatology, 34(12), pp.811–815.

Khalil, M.H. et al., 2000. Topical application of docosanol- or stearic acid-containing creams reduces severity of phenol burn wounds in mice. Contact Dermatitis, 43(2), pp.79–81.

Korać, R.R. & Khambholja, K.M., 2011. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 5(10), p.164.

Mack Correa, M.C. et al., 2013. Molecular interactions of plant oil components with stratum corneum lipids correlate with clinical measures of skin barrier function. Experimental Dermatology, 23(1), pp.39–44.

Mank, V. & Polonska, T., 2016. Use of natural oils as bioactive ingredients of cosmetic products. Ukrainian Food Journal, 5(2), pp.281–289.

MHAMDI, B.A.Y.A. et al., 2009. BIOCHEMICAL CHARACTERIZATION OF BORAGE (BORAGO OFFICINALISL.) SEEDS. Journal of Food Biochemistry, 33(3), pp.331–341.

Moreau, R.A., Whitaker, B.D. & Hicks, K.B., 2002. Phytosterols, phytostanols, and their conjugates in foods: Structural diversity, quantitative analysis, and health-promoting uses. Progress in Lipid Research, 41(6), pp.457–500.

Ract, J.N.R. et al., 2015. Production of vegetable oil blends and structured lipids and their effect on wound healing. Brazilian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 51(2), pp.415–427.

Shin, S. et al., 2019. Anti‐skin aging properties of protocatechuic acid in vitro and in vivo. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 19(4), pp.977–984.


Sivamani, R.K. et al., 2016. Chapter 11, Moisturizers. In Cosmeceuticals and active cosmetics: Drugs Versus Cosmetics. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group.

Timoszuk, M., Bielawska, K. & Skrzydlewska, E., 2018. Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) Biological Activity Dependent on Chemical Composition. Antioxidants, 7(8), p.108.

Van Hoed, V., 2010. Phenolic compounds in seed oils. Lipid Technology, 22(11), pp.247–249.

Zadernowski, R., Naczk, M. & Nowak-Polakowska, H., 2002. Phenolic acids of borage (Borago officinalis L.) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis L.). Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society, 79(4), pp.335–338.

Zielinska, A. & Nowak, I., 2014. Fatty acids in vegetable oils and their importance in cosmetic industry. Chemik, (2), pp.103–110.




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