Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 11, 2020
What Is Evening Primrose?

What Is Evening Primrose?

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The plant, native to North America, has yellow flowers that open at night. That's how it got its name. Traditionally, Native Americans used different parts of the plant, like the leaves and roots, for medicine. Evening primrose oil comes from the seeds.

How It's Used

How It's Used

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The oil has an omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid, which is also found in black currant and borage oils. It may help your body fight inflammation, among other possible effects. It's usually sold in capsule form, and you take it by mouth. People sometimes break the capsules and put the oil directly on their skin. You can also buy bottles of liquid oil.

Eczema

Eczema

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Some people take evening primrose oil capsules to help deal with itching, dry skin, and redness from eczema. But a review of research published a few years ago found no evidence that it works. There's very little research looking at whether applying the oil directly to your skin does anything to help, either.

Nerve Pain

Nerve Pain

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People with diabetes who've had high blood sugar levels a lot can end up with nerve damage. This causes numbness, pain, and other problems. Taking evening primrose oil supplements has been shown to ease some of these symptoms, although more research is needed.

Younger-Looking Skin

Younger-Looking Skin

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There's no shortage of beauty blogs touting the anti-aging, wrinkle-fighting powers of evening primrose oil. And there are plenty of fancy face serums that use evening primrose oil, too. But very few studies have looked at how it works compared to other types of oils.

PMS

PMS

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Some women take it for breast pain related to their periods, or for PMS symptoms like mood swings. But there's no compelling research that proves evening primrose oil actually does anything to help.

ADHD

ADHD

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One small study of children ages 6-12 with ADHD found that, after 6 months, kids who took evening primrose oil and fish oil were better at paying attention and acted less impulsively. It's unclear which is the one that helps or if it was the combination. And there's no other convincing research showing that evening primrose does anything to help ADHD.

Hot Flashes

Hot Flashes

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Many women say evening primrose oil helps this uncomfortable yet common part of menopause and perimenopause. The science isn't certain. One study of 56 menopausal women concluded that evening primrose oil "offers no benefit," although another trial with the same number of women found that evening primrose oil makes hot flashes less intense.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis

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Several small studies have looked into whether taking evening primrose oil, fish oil, and calcium together could help slow down bone loss. The results have been mixed, so we can't recommend it.

Side Effects

Side Effects

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You might get headaches and an upset stomach, usually mild. Recommended doses of evening primrose oil are probably safe for most people to take for a little while, perhaps 6 months or less. We don't know what happens when you take it for a long time. You should ask your doctor before you start using a supplement.

Who Shouldn't Take It

Who Shouldn't Take It

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Pregnant women probably shouldn't take evening primrose oil because there's a chance it might cause labor and delivery complications. If you're going to have surgery, you should stop taking it at least 2 weeks before to avoid increased bleeding. People with epilepsy, schizophrenia, and who are getting anesthesia and take it are more likely to have a seizure.

Drug Interactions

Drug Interactions

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Evening primrose oil doesn't play well with some medications. Avoid it if you're taking blood thinners like warfarin. Medicines like lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor) for high cholesterol may not work right. Certain HIV medications and drugs that treat serious mental and emotional disorders also interact with evening primrose oil. Check with your pharmacist or doctor to be sure it's OK for you.

Show Sources

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SOURCES:

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Evening Primrose Oil."

Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology: "Gamma linolenic acid: an antiinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid."

Journal of Nutrition: "Importance of Dietary γ-Linolenic Acid in Human Health and Nutrition."

Mayo Clinic: "Atopic dermatitis (eczema)," "Diabetic neuropathy," "Evening primrose."

Cochrane: "Oral evening primrose oil and borage oil for eczema."

Journal of Dermatological Treatment: "Topical evening primrose oil as treatment for atopic eczema."

Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Treatment of diabetes mellitus-associated neuropathy with vitamin E and Eve primrose."

International Journal of Cosmetic Science: "Systemic evening primrose oil improves the biophysical skin parameters of healthy adults."

Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: "Herbs, Vitamins and Minerals in the Treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review."

Breast: "Evidence-based management of Mastalgia: a meta-analysis of randomised trials."

American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: "Complementary/alternative therapies for premenstrual syndrome: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials."

Journal of Child Neurology: "Combined ω3 and ω6 supplementation in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) refractory to methylphenidate treatment: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause."

BMJ: "Effect of oral gamolenic acid from evening primrose oil on menopausal flushing."

Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics: "The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial."

British Journal of Nutrition: "Lack of effect of supplementation with essential fatty acids on bone mineral density in healthy pre- and postmenopausal women: two randomized controlled trials of Efacal v. calcium alone."

Aging (Milano): "Calcium, gamma-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid supplementation in senile osteoporosis.

American Family Physician: "Evening Primrose Oil."