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There's perhaps no better-known, widely available oil out there than olive oil. We're willing to bet good money it's a staple in your pantry, and there's no denying that it's an ingredient with plenty of proven health benefits. Research even shows that a diet rich in olive oil can help protect the skin from signs of photoaging. But, to that point, should you be using it for things other than sautéing veggies and whipping up salad dressings? More specifically, should you be using it on your skin? The short answer is yes, but with a few important caveats. Here, New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach, founder of LM Medical and assistant professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai, and Elina Fedotova, celebrity esthetician, cosmetic chemist, and founder of Elina Organics Spas in Chicago and Kalamazoo, MI, weigh in on exactly what you need to know about working this commonplace cooking oil into your beauty routine.
Type of Ingredient: Emollient that softens the skin, but also acts as an occlusive, trapping water and moisture inside the skin.
Main Benefits: Moisturization (per those emollient and occlusive properties), delivers antioxidant protection
Who Should Use It: Olive oil is especially good for those with dry and aging complexions, says Fedotova.
How Often Can You Use It: It can be used daily, particularly if you have very dry skin.
Works Well With: Other oils, as well as most natural cosmetic ingredients, says Fedotova.
Don't Use With: There are no known ingredients that interact negatively with olive oil.
What Is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is an oil extracted from olives; olive trees are native to the Mediterranean region, but are now widely grown in warmer climates. A deep golden color, it can either smell fruity or even a little peppery, depending on the types of olives it comes from. It also has a very long history: "Olive oil has been used since ancient times, and for centuries in cosmetics," says Fedotova. Word on the street is that even Cleopatra was a fan. Also noteworthy: "It's one of the heaviest and richest oils there is," says Fedotova, which is what makes it so ideal for using on the driest of skin. (More on that to come.)
Benefits of Olive Oil for Skin
There are several components found in olive oil that are responsible for its topical benefits.
- Locks moisture into skin: Fatty acids for the win. Olive oil is made up of 73 percent oleic acid, and also contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, says Fedotova. It's what makes it so heavy, and is subsequently why olive oil doesn't really penetrate particularly well. Instead, "Olive oil works as an occlusive barrier, meaning it traps water and moisture inside the skin and doesn't allow it to be released," explains Rabach.
- Smooths and softens the skin: Credit squalene, a component in olive oil (which is also often harvested and used solo), that has very strong emollient properties and helps to lubricate and protect the skin, says Fedotova.
- Delivers antioxidant protection: "Olive oil is rich in vitamins A, D, E, and K, and these antioxidants may have protective effects on the skin," says Rabach. More specifically, we're talking about warding off the damaging free radicals caused exposure to UV rays and pollution, that can lead to everything from spots to sagging.
Side Effects of Olive Oil
The biggest potential drawback is clogged pores. Olive oil is comedogenic, so those with oily or acne-prone skin shouldn't use it, cautions Fedotova. That same oleic acid that makes it so hydrating? It's also what can clog your pores, adds Rabach. Still, other than that, the risk of any type of allergic reaction or irritation is minimal.
How to Use It
The biggest caveat here is first and foremost taking a pass on topical olive oil if you're prone to breakouts. In fact, Rabach recommends avoiding it entirely on the face and neck, and instead reserving it for use on only super dry areas of your body—think elbows, knees, and feet. That being said, if your skin is ultra-parched, go ahead and give it a go. Seeking out formulations where it's blended with other oils and ingredients can also be a good option for your complexion; save the straight-up stuff to use on those very, very chapped and cracked dry areas of your body.
The Best Products With Olive Oil
If you're going to apply pure olive oil onto your skin, it's important to make sure you choose one that's cold-pressed, says Fedotova. (Unrefined, extra virgin, and organic are also important qualities.) This ensures it's been produced without heat or chemicals that can degrade all of its beneficial properties. This particular one fits the bill, at a wallet-friendly price, and is also food-grade so it can pull double duty in your kitchen, too.
Olive oil is the third ingredient on this ingredient list, so you know you're getting a hefty dose of the good stuff. It's combined with argan and camellia oils, as well as seven different, botanically-derived sources of antioxidants. It's definitely best for dry skin types, and a little bit goes a long way, but it's sure to leave your complexion glowy and radiant.
If you want to try using olive oil topically, but are a little wary of going full-on oil, try it in a hydrating cleanser, like this one. The unique formula transforms from a gel to an oil, taking off even super stubborn makeup, thanks to a mix of olive, grapeseed, and jojoba oils. (Fun fact: Olive oil is great at breaking down waxy makeup, like mascara.) It also boasts exfoliating ingredients, like sugarcane and willowbank, to help keep pores clear. It's no surprise that it has loads of devoted fans.
According to Fedotova, olive oil is a choice to use on the fragile skin around the eye area; it's where dryness and the first signs of aging often pop up. Here, it's paired with hyaluronic acid, which acts as a humectant and attracts moisture to the skin, that the olive oil then seals in. And that makes this delicate skin look softer and plumper, while also smoothing away the look of fine lines.
For those who want the deep hydration of olive oil, but without the oily feel, this stick is choice. Olive oil is the first ingredient in the swipe-on multi-tasker, which also uses shea butter and coconut oil for intense hydration. It's ideal for using on cracked heels, elbows, lips, knuckles, and cuticles. (AKA it's a winter skincare must-have.) Bonus points for the compostable paper tube packaging.
Clean beauty queens will appreciate that this is made with approximately 99 percent organic ingredients; olive oil is second on the list. Use it solo, or mix in a drop or two with your fave moisturizer whenever you feel like you need an extra hit of hydration. You an even try lightly patting a small amount over makeup mid-day to refresh your complexion.
This moisturizer lets you reap both the hydrating benefits and antioxidant properties of olive oil. It's combined with a litany of other natural oils, antioxidant-rich extracts, plus natural sources of alpha-hydroxy acids to get skin soft, smooth, and glowing. Since it is a bit richer, it's best reserved for dry or aging complexions.