Evening Primrose Oil Benefits and Uses

What Is Primrose Oil?

Common Evening Primrose, Evening Star (Oenothera biennis)
Evening primrose. Alessandra Sarti/Getty Images

Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seeds of evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), a plant native to North America. It gets its name from the flowers, which bloom in the evening. The oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid required by the body for skin and hair growth, brain function, and reproductive and bone health.


Evening primrose oil is typically used for the following health concerns:


Here's a look at several key findings from the available research on evening primrose:

1) Rheumatoid Arthritis

Studies suggest that gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) found in evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, or blackcurrant seed oil may improve pain and function in people with rheumatoid arthritis. A report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2011 examined the use of supplements for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. According to the analysis of previously published trials, evidence from seven studies suggests that gamma-linolenic acid may reduce pain intensity and improve disability in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

2) Menopause-Related Symptoms

One of the most commonly used supplements by women who are going through menopause, evening primrose oil is said to relieve symptoms such as hot flashes. The available evidence includes one study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics that found that six weeks of evening primrose oil reduced the severity of hot flashes compared to a placebo.

3) Eczema

Evening primrose oil may not help relieve symptoms of eczema, according to a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013. For the report, researchers analyzed previously published trials on the use of evening primrose oil and borage oil for atopic eczema. Analysis of the results of seven studies showed that evening primrose oil didn't significantly improve symptoms compared to a placebo.

4) PMS and Menstrual Cramps

Evening primrose oil is sometimes used to alleviate menstrual cramps and address premenstrual syndrome (PMS), however, there's no conclusive evidence that it can help.  

Possible Side Effects

Like most supplements, there isn't much evidence for the safety of long-term or high-dose use of evening primrose oil. The supplement may cause side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, headache, and nausea.

People with seizure disorders and those taking medication for schizophrenia should avoid evening primrose oil, as it may increase the risk of seizures.

Intake of evening primrose oil may increase the risk of bleeding for people with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication. It shouldn't be taken if you have an upcoming surgery due to the risk of bleeding.

Pregnant women shouldn't take evening primrose oil as it may increase the risk of complications such as miscarriage and induced labor. Women who are breastfeeding and children should also avoid it.

There's some concern that using evening primrose oil for a prolonged time period may increase the risk of inflammation, immunosuppression, and blood clots.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. 

Using Evening Primrose Oil

Available in many health food stores and in pharmacies offering herbal supplements, evening primrose oil is typically sold in capsule form.

Bottom Line

If you're considering using evening primrose oil for a health concern, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

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Article Sources
  • Bamford JT, Ray S, Musekiwa A, van Gool C, Humphreys R, Ernst E. Oral evening primrose oil and borage oil for eczema. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Apr 30;(4):CD004416. 
  • Cameron M, Gagnier JJ, Chrubasik S. Herbal therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Feb 16;(2):CD002948. 
  • Farzaneh F, Fatehi S, Sohrabi MR, Alizadeh K. The effect of oral evening primrose oil on menopausal hot flashes: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2013 Nov;288(5):1075-9. 
  • Madhok V, Futamura M, Thomas KS, Barbarot S. What's new in atopic eczema? An analysis of systematic reviews published in 2012 and 2013. Part 2. Treatment and prevention. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Jun;40(4):349-54; quiz 354-5.