Olive oil is one of life’s little delights, in my opinion. Really, truly good olive oil — the kind that burns a little in your throat as it goes down — is one of those gastronomic wonders that I too often take for granted as just part of everyday cooking. But beauty lovers certainly haven’t taken it for granted, since it seems to be popping up in all kinds of products and, yes, home remedies.
And this is one of those home remedies I’ve seen everywhere. Dr. Oz recommends it. Women’s Day recommends it. Elle recommends it. Generally speaking, just because everyone says something doesn’t mean it’s true, and I’m a firm believer in that. As Mark Twain once remarked, “The history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”
So, with a healthy sense of skepticism in mind, I went forth in search of information on olive oil.
Olive Oil as an Antioxidant
Olive oil has plenty of benefits that have made it a darling of the personal care and home remedy world. Olive oil is known to be packed with antioxidants, and these vitamins are known to help to prevent the occurence of UV-induced cancers (Toxicology). In studies on mice, topically applied olive oil helped delay the onset of UVB-induced tumors (Carcinogenesis). The vitamin C and vitamin E in olive oil make it a great antioxidant that can help protect hair from environmental damage by keeping free radicals at bay.
The Ups and Downs of Olive Oil as a Moisturizer or Conditioner
Olive oil is an occlusive moisturizer, meaning that it helps to trap moisture and keep your skin, or, in this case, hair, hydrated. But that’s only if you’ve already got enough moisture. Occlusives on their own aren’t enough for dry skin and hair because what dry skin and hair need is water, not oil. So that means that just coating your hair in olive oil, without adding something moisturizing, could actually create an occlusive barrier that makes it harder for water to get in, but that doesn’t actually add moisture (David E. Banks, M.D., FAAD). Oh, and aside from that, researchers writing an article in the American Family Physician were sure to note that it was really hard to wash out.
What you really want is an emollient plus an occlusive moisturizer so that you’re getting the extra moisture you need in addition to a protective barrier. In terms of emollients, you want something with medium-to-long-chain hydrocarbons. For those of you who aren’t immediately familiar with what that means, the oils you want to look for to add hydration are oils such as palm oil, coconut oil, pequi oil, and palm oil (Dermatitis; Skin Therapy Letters).
While it’s true that you could magically stumble on the right combinations of oils, it’s almost certainly better to pick a product that’s been professionally formulated. Cosmetic chemists go through rigorous training to create products that are not just super effective, but are also safe. Their formulations are crafted to try to keep you from getting contact dermatitis and even nastier issues.
Verdict: Treat — With a “But”
So, olive oil can help to condition dry hair, but there’s a pretty big BUT attached to that. First and foremost, I’ve heard a lot of different estimates, but most say that at least some imported extra virgin olive oil purchased in the U.S. is either fake or cut with other oils. So, whether eating or applying it to your hair, you want to make sure you get real olive oil. The other “but” is that olive oil is an occlusive that won’t add moisture to your hair and is pretty tough to wash out, so you might want to consider getting an olive oil-containing product. These contain all the benefits of olive oil, but they’ve been formulated to go in your hair. Check out these other options:
DevaCurl One Conditioner ($44.50)
Consider something like this to keep your hair soft and shiny. These have the benefits of other awesome ingredients that help your hair to stay soft and shiny and have tons of antioxidants.
*Editor’s Note: This post contains affiliate links.