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Since ancient times, olive oil has been used as folk medicine for various ailments and is known as a staple of Mediterranean cuisine. But, as it turns out, olive oil also has heaps of benefits for the skin thanks to its high content of fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Therefore, apart from being an indispensable part of a healthy diet, olive oil is becoming omnipresent in the world of beauty as well and is the key ingredient in many cosmetic products for our skin and hair.
Keep on reading to learn everything about olive oil for skin, its benefits, and how you can use it for smooth and healthy skin.
What Is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is extracted by pressing the whole olive fruit, or Olea europaea, native to the Mediterranean Basin. However, getting to this precious oil takes quite a bit of patience and work.
The first hurdle in coaxing the oil out of the fruit is getting the olives. Traditionally, olive trees were shaken or hit with sticks to make the olives fall to the ground. However, olives, like peaches and plums, are soft, and they bruise easily, which makes the nutrients inside them degrade, resulting in a lower quality oil.
So, growers had to come up with a more delicate approach to getting the olives, which turned out to be handpicking them (and to produce one liter of oil, 4 to 5 kg of olives are needed!). Olive oil derived from handpicked olives is a better-quality oil and is labeled as tree olives. Still, many large manufacturers use tree-shaking devices and set nets beneath the trees to catch the fruit before it hits the ground.
The next hurdle is transporting the olives to the processing plant. Here, growers also have to be extra careful and try not to crush the fruit while transporting it. Crushed olives will start to ferment and oxidize, again resulting in lower-quality oil with off smell and flavor. So, to avoid this, olives need to be transported in shallow containers.
Now, it's time for pressing and processing the fruit. First off, olives need to be processed soon after harvesting because storing them for too long degrades their nutrients.
After washing them and removing any leaves and twigs, olives are put in stainless steel rollers where they are crushed together with their pits and turned into paste. The paste is then mixed with water, the process called malaxation, allowing oil molecules to clump together. The mixture then needs to be stirred for about 40 minutes, but no longer than that, as exposure to air negatively affects the oil quality. Stirring allows the oil to get all the flavors and nutrients from the paste.
Next, the paste goes through a centrifuge, separating the paste residues from the water and oil. Then, oil is extracted from the water, and may undergo the process of refining (removing bitter taste and acidity), bleaching (removing pigments and pesticides), or deodorizing (removing natural fragrance). This additional processing usually results in light-colored oil with no aroma and fewer nutrients.
And as a final hurdle, we have – storing the oil. Before bottling and shipping, the oil needs to be kept in stainless steel containers and stored at a specific temperature (about 65 degrees Fahrenheit) to prevent the breaking down of the nutrients and affecting the oil quality.
Knowing how much work it takes to get olive oil gives you a whole new appreciation for it, doesn't it?
What Are the Benefits of Olive Oil for Skin?
Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, vitamins, and fatty acids with numerous skin-loving benefits, from cleansing to fighting skin aging. Here are the top 4 benefits of olive oil for skin:
#1: It's Moisturizing.
More than 80% of fatty acid content in olive oil belongs to monounsaturated oleic acid. The remainder is made up of linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid [source]. Oleic acid is an excellent moisturizer, creating a barrier on the skin and preventing water loss.
#2: It's Anti-Aging.
Besides its high fatty acid content, olive oil is also jam-packed with antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, squalene, tocopherols, lutein, and various phenolic compounds [source]. These antioxidants act as free-radical scavengers, reducing oxidative stress caused by UV radiation and pollution and protecting against premature aging. Research also suggests that olive oil reduces stress-induced signs of aging, such as collagen fiber loss and thinner dermis.
#3: It's Anti-Inflammatory.
The numerous phenolic compounds (mostly found in virgin olive oil) and oleic acid in olive oil have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds are especially effective in supporting tissue repair and speeding up the process of wound healing [source].
#4: It Breaks Down Makeup.
Olive oil is very effective at breaking down waterproof makeup, dirt, and waxy substances piled on your skin throughout the day. So, it can be an excellent option for your evening double cleanse – you can use olive oil to lift off any sebum and makeup from your skin and around your eyes, and follow up with your regular cleanser.
How to Use Olive Oil
If you want to add olive oil to your skincare routine, you can get skincare products that contain olive oil, such as different soaps, cleansers, balms, and moisturizers. Or, you could use pure olive oil that you likely already have in your kitchen.
If you opt for the latter, though, it would be best to use unrefined virgin olive oil without any additives, and remember that little goes a long way. You don't need the oil dripping from your face, but a few drops now and again are totally enough.
Here are some tips on how you could incorporate olive oil into your skincare routine:
#1: As a Moisturizer
Thanks to its high fatty acid content and emollient properties, olive oil acts as a natural occlusive, locking the moisture in your skin and preventing transepidermal water loss. Since it's an oil, after all, it's best to use it in the evenings, after you've applied your moisturizing cream. Warm up several drops of the oil between your palms and gently press it into your skin. Alternatively, you can mix a few drops of the oil with your moisturizer.
#2: As a Makeup Remover
Since olive oil is great at dissolving waxy substances and waterproof makeup, you can use it to lift the makeup, dirt, sunscreen, and sebum off your skin before cleansing. Put several drops in your palms and apply the oil to your skin using gentle circular motions until all the makeup is broken down. Then use a cotton pad or a washcloth to remove the dissolved makeup, and cleanse your skin using your regular cleanser.
Possible Side Effects of Using Olive Oil
While beneficial in many ways, using olive oil topically is not for everyone. Some studies suggest that topical application of olive oil may disrupt the skin's natural barrier, and therefore, it shouldn't be used on infants. For the same reason, you should avoid using olive oil if you have sensitive skin or any other skin condition**, such as eczema, psoriasis, and others.
Also, if you're allergic to olives and their derivatives, olive oil is not for you. If you're not sure if that's the case, do a 24-hour patch test. Apply a small amount of olive oil to the upper part of your inner arm and wait 24 hours before washing it. Observe how your skin reacts. If you don't notice any redness, rash, or itchiness after 24 hours have passed, you're good to go. In the case you experience any burning, pain, or itching at any point during this 24-hour period, wash the affected area immediately and thoroughly.
And finally, those of you with oily skin prone to acne should also avoid using olive oil on your face. This is because olive oil is quite heavy and can easily clog your pores, creating more problems with blackheads, whiteheads, and acne.
Due to the high content of different antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids, there are many skin benefits of olive and its use is indeed diverse. It will serve you well in the kitchen, adding tons of flavor to your dishes and offering bonus health benefits. But also, it can be helpful as a part of your skincare routine, as long as you use it sparingly and pay attention to the quality of the oil. If you intend to apply your olive oil to your skin, try purchasing tried-and-tested products from trusted and reputable manufacturers.
Also, choose unrefined cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil since heavily processed and refined products are usually of poor quality and contain fewer nutrients and antioxidants. And, finally, be mindful when storing it since heat and air can affect its quality as well – so keep it in a dark and cool room away from sunlight.