I’m a big proponent of olive oil. I’m notorious for shamelessly splashing it in places it might not belong. Recently I’ve been wondering if that should include my skin. Olive oil in skin care has become a big trend, and I love the idea of it, so I did some investigating to see if it’s truly beneficial. Experts laud olive oil’s benefits when correctly formulated for skin care. “Olive oil is literally a skin-compatible multi-tasker. It moisturizes and deeply nourishes the skin while also improving elasticity,” says chemical engineer and founder of Greek skin-care brand KORRES, Lena Philippou Korres.
“Olive oil is one of a few oils that actually penetrates deeper instead of just coating the face or hair,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “It’s a great cosmetic ingredient.” Cofounder of Umbria, Italy-based Beauty Thinkers, Claudio Castiglioni, says he wholeheartedly recommends incorporating it into not only your facial skin-care practice but also your hair and body routines. However, there are few ways you could go astray and end up doing more harm than good to your skin, so read up on these expert tips before running to the store.
The benefits of olive oil in skin care
Olive oil can be used in the treatment of wrinkles and excessively dry, itchy skin, says cosmetic chemist Sanley Jeanne. Olive oil’s moisturizing properties help maintain the water content that is naturally found in our skin. When applied topically, it can help reduce inflammation, which helps maintain the strength of skin, says Jeanne. Cosmetic chemist Milan K Scott notes that olive oil has been reported to boost collagen production, which can be helpful when treating sunburned or damaged skin.
Due to its level of acidity, olive oil has been shown to be good at penetrating the skin, says Jeanne. “Highly acidic olive oil can improve epidermal permeability by weakening the skin barrier, which is then followed by cytokines re-building the barrier,” says Jeanne. “The acidity of olive oil may help active ingredients better penetrate the skin.”
Olive oil also “contains remarkable antioxidant properties to protect and brighten skin, plus sterols that promote a youthful glow and reduce trans-epidermal water loss to improve hydration and lock in moisture,” says cofounder and CEO of Italian skin-care brand Furtuna Skin, Kim Walls. “Everyone should consider olive-based products as their number-one defense against dry, prematurely aging skin. In addition to hydrating, this oil’s natural antioxidant properties can help reduce unwanted pigmentation over time,” says Walls. Olive oil can even boost the antioxidant activity of your existing skin-care routine, notes Castiglioni.
What makes olive oil beneficial for skin?
“Olive oil has a very high concentration in essential fatty acids, such linoleic acid, oleic acid and squalane with excellent emollient, nourishing and antioxidant properties,” says Korres. “Its composition mimics skin’s natural oils, which makes it very skin compatible.” Squalane is a popular ingredient in skin care. It makes up about 13 percent of human sebum, and it’s a major component of olive oil, says Jeanne. It’s known for decreasing free-radical oxidative damage, protecting skin from the negative effects of UV exposure, explains Jeanne.
“The most prevalent fatty acid found in olive oil is oleic acid. It’s known to benefit skin maintenance and may accelerate the wound-healing process. Oleic acid plays an important role in reconstructing cell membranes and restores the skin’s water level to improve smoothness. This moisturizes and improves the elasticity of skin,” says Jeanne. The pantry staple is also rich in tocopherols, an antioxidant that helps protect cells against cell oxidation, she adds. It also contains phenolic compounds, which are high in antioxidants boasting anti-aging properties. Korres notes that olive oil is also a natural source of vitamins, including A, D, K and E.
Who should use skin care with olive oil in it, and who should avoid it?
Scott says products with olive oil can be beneficial for those with dry skin. Since olive oil is an emollient, it is very effective at enhancing the skin’s barrier function, says Jeanne. It supplies “additional lipids to increase skin hydration while also reducing visible scales on the skin,” says Jeanne.
Scott suggests avoiding high concentrations of the ingredient if you have acne-prone or oily skin due to the chance of comedogenicity. However, Walls and Jeanne believe that it can be beneficial to any kind of skin if balanced correctly. Castiglioni says Beauty Thinkers’ process of biotech enzymatic conversion allows them to remove the greasiness from olive oil. This helps the ingredient be beneficial for most skin types, from oily and combination to sensitive skin. “Olive oil is not recommended for atopy-prone skin or baby products due to its high content of actives,” notes Korres.
Can you put pure olive oil on your skin?
Olive oil can be beneficial when mixed by masters in a lab and balanced with other skin-loving ingredients. But how about on its own? “It is my professional recommendation that nobody put anything from your kitchen straight onto your face, especially food-grade olive oil. There’s the possibility of contamination and the high chance of comedogenicity,” says Scott. “I especially urge readers not to use pure olive oil when going into the sun because this can cause severe sunburn and worsened hyperpigmentation. Instead, I recommend utilizing skin-care products that have been formulated with olive oil or olive squalane by an experienced and reputable cosmetic chemist .”
Jeanne explains that “slathering pure olive oil on your skin could cause more harm than good because even though olive oil may help active ingredients better penetrate the skin, it may also create adverse effects,” says Jeanne. She especially cautions those with an impaired skin barrier to avoid olive oil in its natural form. “They are more susceptible to the negative effects that may occur from topically applied olive oil,” she explains. She adds that “using olive oil directly on the face could cause the stratum corneum to thin out even more,” which could create issues like inflammation.
Stick to facial products that were made by experts that feature olive oil. Not only is it not good for your skin, but it’ll also likely feel icky. “Oils in general are not easily absorbed by the skin. They may feel heavy and unpleasant,” says Korres. “The optimal use of oils is in a properly designed formula that’s easily absorbed, non-comedogenic and doesn’t leave residue.”
Products often don’t tell you where the olive oil is from and what percentage the olive oil is, says King. It’s important to get recommendations from an expert or talk to your doctor about any new skin care. Scott recommends KORRES Santorini Grape Velvet Skin Drink ($50). Meanwhile, the KORRES founder recommends products from the brand’s Pure Greek Olive collection formulated with organic, extra virgin olive oil from world-renowned Cretan groves alongside Cretan olive leaf extract. Some of her favorites include the best-selling Pure Greek Olive 3-In-1 Nourishing Oil ($38), Olive Advanced Firming Overnight Treatment ($59) and Pure Greek Olive Shower Gel ($19).
Jeanne recommends Wildling Empress Balm of Gilead Barrier Repair Oil ($82), Credo Beauty Everyday Oil, Mainstay Blend ($24) and Wonder Valley Hinoki Body Oil ($85). Walls shouts out Furtuna Skin Replenishing Balm ($105), noting that she uses it as a slugging mask every night, the widely beloved Biphase Moisturizing Oil ($225) and the Cleansing Oil Balm ($78) that cuts through makeup, sunscreen and dirt. Castigliano recommends Beauty Thinkers Antioxidant Boost Facial Oil ($85), Hydrator 3 Barrier Support ($88), UVA UVB SPF30 Mineral Filter ($113) and Dopo Sole After Sun Restore ($93).