The benefits of using olive oil for the skin have been known for millennia. There is evidence that olive oil was first pressed about 5,000 years ago in the Mediterranean region and has been utilized since for its many healthful properties. Both applied topically and taken internally, olive oil provides benefits for the body’s largest organ, the skin. For topical skin care, it is used primarily to soften, cleanse and heal the skin. Rich in antioxidants, this monounsaturated fat moisturizes and protects the skin from free radical damage and is believed to lessen the formation and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Although sometimes used alone for skin care, more often olive oil for the skin is utilized as a beneficial ingredient in a wide variety of skin care products. Soaps, lotions and healing salves frequently contain olive oil. With the increasing interest in natural products, olive oil skin treatments are becoming more numerous and varied. Olive oil skin care products range from cleansing creams to moisturizing massage oils. Many of these products also contain herbs and essential oils believed to benefit the skin.
Fats and oils are essential to maintain healthy skin and nerves, and to provide a source of energy. Adding olive oil to the diet provides many benefits, including supple skin, healthy blood vessels and the prevention of some cancers. Both the antioxidants — including Vitamin E — and the monounsaturated fats it contains are thought to increase the health benefits of olive oil for the skin. These are the same components that improve skin when applied topically. Many homemade culinary and skin care products contain olive oil as a main ingredient.
A laboratory study using mice concluded that the application of olive oil after exposure to ultraviolet light significantly reduced the formation of skin cancer in the mice. Although application before exposure had some effect, the greatest benefits were achieved by applying olive oil after exposure. Researchers believe that the antioxidants in the oil prevented oxidative damage to the DNA of skin cells. Using olive oil for the skin may help in the prevention of skin cancers caused by excessive exposure to sunlight.
Another study compared the use of a water-based emollient, an olive oil cream, or nothing for premature babies. The study found that the babies treated with the olive oil cream had less dermatitis that either the babies treated with the water-based emollient or the ones that had no treatment. One of the oldest and most common uses of this oil is on dry skin. From babies to people with signs of premature aging, olive oil has been shown to moisturize, protect and help maintain healthy skin.