Can You Eat Fish Skin, and is it Healthy?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

In fact, it’s estimated that humans eat more than 330 billion pounds (150 million tonnes) of fish each year (1).

Fish is nutrient-dense, delicious, and a healthy addition to any meal. You may wonder if these properties apply to the skin as well.

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This article reviews the benefits and safety of eating fish skin and explains how to include it in your diet.

Is it safe to eat fish skin?

Some people may avoid fish skin out of fear that it’s unsafe to eat, though this is generally not the case.

Fish skin has been eaten safely throughout history. It’s even a popular snack in many countries and cultures.

As long as fish have been properly cleaned and the outer scales fully removed, the skin is typically safe to eat.

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Because fish is a great source of nutrients like iron and omega-3 fatty acids, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends eating a 4-ounce (113-gram) serving of fish 2–3 times per week (2).

However, some fish contain high levels of mercury and other toxins and contaminants, all of which can be present in the skin as well (3, 4, 5).

Therefore, choosing low-mercury fish more often than high-mercury fish is recommended. Here are a few examples of the typical mercury content of fish (2):

  • Low: catfish, cod, flounder, pollock, salmon, tilapia, most canned tunas
  • Medium: carp, grouper, halibut, mahi-mahi, snapper
  • High: king mackerel, marlin, shark, swordfish, tile fish

In short, fish skin doesn’t pose any health risks greater than those of consuming the flesh of fish. Use similar guidelines to choose fish skin as you would when choosing the types of fish to eat.

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Fish skin is safe to eat as long as the fish has been cleaned and properly cared for prior to eating. Eating the skin of fish that are lower in mercury and other contaminants will limit your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Nutrition and health benefits

The exact nutritional profile of fish skin varies significantly depending on the type of fish. That said, most fish are rich in a few key nutrients.

Eating fish skin from a variety of fatty and lean fish can help ensure adequate intake of nutrients, including (6):

  • protein
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • iodine
  • selenium
  • taurine

Here’s a closer look at some of the specific benefits these nutrients in fish skin may provide.

A good source of protein
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Fish, including its skin, is a great source of dietary protein — an essential nutrient that serves as building blocks for tissues like muscles in the human body.

Protein may also contribute to optimal health by reducing the risk of certain disorders like stunted growth, low iron levels, and swelling in the body (7).

Moreover, some proteins, such as histones and transferrin, play a role in immunity. Many of these proteins are present in the mucus of fish skin (8).

High in protective omega-3s

One of the best known benefits of fatty fish is their high level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

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Consuming the omega-3 fatty acids in the skin of oily fish may contribute to optimal health with benefits like heart protection, healthy pregnancies, and a reduced risk of brain diseases (9).

May support skin health

Eating fish skin may also improve your skin health.

Fish skin is a good source of collagen and vitamin E, both of which contribute to healthy human skin (10).

For example, studies have found that collagen could improve skin hydration, elasticity, and other trademarks of aging like wrinkles (11, 12).

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Collagen is a type of protein present in all parts and types of fish — thus, you’ll find it in both scales, bones, flesh, and skin. On the other hand, vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant, more commonly found in oily fish like salmon and trout.

Vitamin E supports skin health by protecting against the harmful effects of the sun and by improving symptoms of certain skin conditions like eczema (13, 14).

May boost your nutrient intake

Eating the skin along with the flesh helps you consume the most nutrients possible from fish.

By removing the skin and eating only the flesh, you’ll miss out on the many beneficial nutrients and oils in the skin, as well as those found in the mucus and layers of flesh just below the skin.

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Fish skin is a great source of nutrients that support optimal human health, such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E. Consuming fish skin could contribute to muscle growth, improved heart health, and healthy skin.

How to prepare and eat fish skin

To reap the benefits of fish skin, it helps if you know the tastiest ways to prepare it.

When preparing a piece of skin-on fish, try panfrying or grilling it at a high temperature with the skin side down for a crispy result.

Avoid boiling and steaming the fish as this could result in a soggy or slimy texture of the skin.

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Also, keep in mind that the taste of fish skin differs between types. Fish known for having delicious skin include bass, barramundi, flounder, mackerel, salmon, and snapper.

On the other hand, less tasty skin is found on monkfish, skate, swordfish, and tuna.

Further, chefs are getting creative with fish skin on restaurant menus. It’s not uncommon to see fish skin fried or cooked separately and served as an appetizer or side dish.

Flavored fish skin snacks are also getting more common and are already popular in Asian cuisines. These snacks are typically deep fried and salted and can be high in fat and sodium.

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Therefore, it’s best to enjoy fried fish skin snacks in moderation. Further, if you have any underlying conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, you may want to avoid them to not exacerbate any current conditions.

Fish skin can be prepared in various ways. It can be seared at a high temperature for a crispy texture or removed from the flesh and fried. Certain types of fish skin taste better than others.

The bottom line

Fish skin is a delicious and nutritious part of the fish.

It’s rich in the same nutrients found in the flesh of fish, and consuming fish with the skin on helps ensure nutrients aren’t lost during the cooking process.

The nutrients in fish have a wide range of benefits, including support of heart and skin health.

Fish skin is very versatile as a culinary ingredient. You can try preparing it a few different ways to learn which ones you prefer.

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