One of our favourite ways to pamper ourselves is to give our skin some love. It deserves it, after all. It fights around the clock to protect us from external dangers. Think UV radiation, air pollution, tobacco, bacterial infections, and allergens (just to name a few). That said, you don’t need a spa treatment to nourish your skin. All you need is a balanced diet with the right nutrients, which is why olive oil is an excellent option. So is olive oil good for your skin? The short answer is, yes!April 30, 2021 6:44 pm May 04, 2021 6:42 pm
Rich with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, this plant-based oil soothes and nurtures your skin so it can excel at its job.
But applying it safely is important, so you might not want to trade in your usual nighttime moisturiser just yet.
The skin and antioxidants
We don’t want to get too nerdy on you but here’s some facts about the skin: It’s the largest organ in our body and has three main layers.
The outermost layer that you can see is called the ‘epidermis’. The ‘dermis’ underneath is where you’ll find sweat and oil glands, hair follicles, connective tissues, and nerve endings. (This is where most of the protective action takes place.) The third layer is the ‘subcutaneous fat’ and provides insulation to keep us warm.
Our skin is the site of constant oxidative reactions that need to be neutralised. That’s where antioxidants come in, because their job is to neutralise these reactions.
An imbalance of antioxidants may induce or aggravate skin defects (dermatoses), therefore consuming antioxidants and applying them to the skin could help heal and prevent damage.(2)
Olive oil nutrients for the skin
Olive oil is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, including the most potent free radical neutraliser in the body—vitamin E.
Vitamin E doesn’t only protect cells from this damage, but can also prevent the production of free radical cells altogether.(13)
Olive oil also contains a ton of phenolic compounds. These compounds come from polyphenols, which are micronutrients found in plant-based foods and they’re well known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hydrophilic phenols, the most abundant phenols in olive oil, actually have more antioxidant properties than vitamin E! And oleocanthanal phenols, another type of phenols in this oil, possess anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen.(1)(6)
Phenolic compounds also exhibit anti-inflammatory activity when included in a regular diet, so be sure to reap these benefits by drizzling some EVOO over your salad or a slice of freshly baked bread.(6)
Olive oil for sun protection
The sun does wonders for uplifting our moods and inhibiting the production of vitamin D to keep our bones, teeth, and muscles healthy, but its UV (ultraviolet) rays are detrimental for our skin.
Overexposure can cause premature ageing, unsightly spots, and lead to skin cancer. It also depletes us of vitamin E, which you now know is vital for our skin’s health.(4)
Since olive oil is rich in vitamin E, consuming it will provide your skin with extra vitamins you may lose through sun exposure.
Having said that, we advise you to wear a natural sunscreen when you are exposed to direct sunshine. Olive oil’s protective benefits cannot be used in place of it.
Applying olive oil topically
This section should be read carefully, as applying olive oil directly to your skin can have both beneficial and harmful effects. While it has a positive role in promoting wound healing, it has a detrimental effect on the epidermis and skin barrier function.(6)
Wound healing benefits
The skin’s wound healing abilities are truly incredible and one of the only bodily functions that we can see right before our eyes. Studies show that applying olive oil topically to the wound can help improve the healing process.(12)(7)
The healing process has four phases, homeostasis, inflammation, proliferation, and tissue remodelling.
First, the blood around the cut clumps together—clots—to prevent further blood loss. After blood clotting around the wound has occurred, the area becomes inflamed to control bleeding and prevent infection, as well as allowing nutrients and oxygen to the wound.
Then white blood cells arrive to fight infection and clean out the wound. This is why you might see clear fluid around the cut. Red blood cells help create collagen, which form the foundation for new tissue. Lastly, the new tissue strengthens, but this part of the process take a few months, or even years to complete.(14)
Polyphenols are able to regulate the immune system by affecting the body’s defences, including the growth and activity of white blood cells. Therefore olive oil can help protect the skin from the inside thanks to its polyphenols.(10)
Evidence for olive oil’s wound healing properties
One study investigated the healing effects of applying olive oil on pressure ulcers in mice. Also known as ‘pressure sores’ or ‘bedsores’, pressure ulcers are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue caused by prolonged pressure, like being in a wheelchair or bedridden for long periods of time.
The results of this study concluded that, compared to the control group (water), olive oil improved wound healing by reducing oxidative damage and inflammation and promoting skin reconstruction and wound closure.(12)
Another study tested the healing effect of olive oil and sea buckthorn on third-degree burns on rats. Third-degree burns destroy all layers of the skin, including the fat beneath it.
The rats were divided into 5 groups and treated with sea buckthorn, olive oil, a sea buckthorn/olive oil mixture, silver sulfadiazine, and normal saline as the control group. The wound healing process was observed for 28 days.
The results show that wounds healed faster in the sea buckthorn, olive oil, and mixture groups.
The mixture of sea buckthorn and olive oil best controlled any secretions and had more developed tissue. This suggests that the two oils together show a synergetic effect when treating wounds and could be used as an alternative dressing for full-thickness burns.(7)
Next time you get a nasty burn from touching a hot pan, no need to run to get a plaster. Just reach into the cupboard and dab a bit of olive oil on the spot!
Studies show that applying olive oil topically to the wound can help improve the healing process.(12)(7)
Though inflammation is an important part of the wound healing process, when and for how long the inflammation occurs are important.
Inflammation activates immune cells to get to work, but these cells can damage the skin tissue around the inflamed area. In short, inflammation’s benefits are determined by its duration and intensity. If a wound won’t heal, inflammation continues and leads to cell damage.
Therefore, applying olive oil to the affected area could help keep inflammation under control and prevent further cell damage.(6)
Likewise, including olive oil in your diet means you’re providing anti-inflammatory benefits in the form of polyphenols.
Negative effects of topical use
As mentioned above, applying olive oil directly to your skin could cause damage too. especially if you are prone to dermatitis, like atopic dermatitis (commonly known as eczema). Eczema makes dryness even worse, as it increases your skin’s water loss.
The main component of olive oil that contributes to skin damage is oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-8 fatty acid. This fatty acid makes up 55-80% of olive oil’s contents. Other foods with oleic acid include avocado oil and macadamia nuts.
While oleic acid as part of a balanced diet could protect brain function and decrease blood pressure, it’s not great to put directly on the skin. In fact, it can be detrimental to skin barrier function and can induce dermatitis if used continuously.(10)
It’s worth noting that olive oil also contains linoleic acid, which plays a direct role in maintaining skin’s hydration. Though this only makes up for up to 21% of the oil’s contents so it’s not enough to outweigh oleic acid’s harmful effects.
Application of olive oil should be done sparingly and with caution. If your skin is sensitive or you are prone to eczema, applying olive oil to your skin should be avoided.
Olive oil could cause dermatitis
A study to ascertain the effect of olive oil and sunflower seed oil on the skin recruited 19 adult volunteers with and without a history of atopic dermatitis (eczema) for two randomised forearm controlled studies.
The researchers evaluated the skin’s moisture, pH levels, redness (erythema), integrity, and cohesion, to name a few. Results showed that the olive oil significantly damaged the skin barrier and induced mild redness in volunteers with and without a history of atopic dermatitis.
Furthermore, olive oil for treating dry skin and as a massaging oil for babies is discouraged.(8)
Speaking of babies, another study was done to test topical oils on baby skin to see if it contributed to the development of childhood atopic eczema.
The oil groups (including olive oil) had improved hydration and less improvement in the lipid lamellae structure of the skin. Yet there were no significant differences in water losses, pH levels, or skin scores. Thus, more research needs to be done in the area before recommending the use of olive oil on babies’ skin for eczema.(9)
If you are eager to try olive oil as a moisturiser, why not mix it together with a few other ingredients for a homemade face mask? This way you are getting the benefits of olive oil, but in a smaller, safer dose.
Honey and olive oil, or even oatmeal, olive oil, and brown sugar could provide moisture and a light scrub for your dry skin.
Olive oil can also be applied to soothe dreadful sunburns! Or any type of burn, for that matter. When applying olive oil on its own, make sure to blot the excess oil off with a tissue or piece of kitchen roll.
For dry and itchy ears, you can try putting a drop or two of olive oil in your ears to lubricate them.
Don’t forget, your skin can still benefit from olive oil if you’d rather eat it than apply it topically.
There are plenty of recipes available to try that include olive oil. As olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, you might want to take a look further into the diet itself for ideas.
How to use olive oil for skin
- The best way to use olive oil for skin is by including it in your diet, to nourish skin from the inside
- You can also use it to soothe minor burns such as sunburns
- Don’t apply it topically over long periods of time, as it can irritate the skin
- Olive oil can’t be used in place of sunscreen
- Avoid using it topically if you suffer from a skin condition, or using it as a massage oil for babies.
Why choose extra virgin olive oil
To get the full skin benefits of olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is the best choice.
There are many types of olive oil and it can be confusing to know which one to go for. We’ve explained each type in a previous article but to summarise, extra virgin olive oil (sometimes referred to as EVOO) is unrefined and natural, meaning it has the most nutrients of any other type of olive oil.
While other production methods remove polyphenols during filtration, EVOO preserves these additional polyphenols. The content of polyphenols also depends on the ripeness of olives, how they are harvested, and stored and packaged.(10)
It’s also best to consume EVOO as is in order to enjoy all of its benefits. Heating the oil will oxidise the phenolic compounds and fatty acids, thus reducing its health benefits. Studies show that 30 minutes of cooking oil caused a 60% decrease of phenol compounds and 90% after 60 minutes of heating.(11)
So have your olive oil raw, whether you’re applying it to your skin or enjoying it with your meal. Your skin will thank you.
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