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Olive oil is commonly found in skin care products, with companies claiming olive oil to be a “super antioxidant” that makes skin “smoother and more radiant.” Yet, how potent is olive oil as an antioxidant, and what exactly are the scientifically proven improvements it has for the skin?
Olive oil as anti-carcinogenic
Topical application of extra virgin olive oil has been shown in a 1998 study in Carcinogenesis to inhibit chemically-induced tumor activation in the mouse, and in a 2000 study also in Carcinogenesis to inhibit UVB-induced tumor formation in the mouse. While it has been proposed in the journal The Lancet Oncology that olive oil may protect against cancer because it contains three classes of protective polyphenols (simple phenols, secoridoids, and lignans), it was proposed by Newmark that olive oil has anti-carcinogenic properties due to its natural inclusion of squalene. Whatever the reason, olive oil has been demonstrated to have protective properties against cancerous tumor formation when ingested through foods (such as a Mediterranean diet) and when applied topically. It has been proposed in the journal Toxicology that regular use of olive oil-containing products (food and topical skin care) may protect against UV-induced skin damage, as does use of vitamins C (as L-ascorbic acid) and vitamin E (as tocopheryl acetate).
Olive oil as a protector against aging
Olive oil contains resveratrol, which may promote the activity of sirtuins, agents that are currently suspected to prolong the life of fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells) by turning off gene expression for unnecessary tasks. When the body wants to keep processes going, it produces additional quantities of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a natural electron carrier that binds to sirtuins and inhibits sirtuin activity. When NAD comes in and attempts to bind to sirtuins, resveratrol has been shown by Howitz. et al in 2004 to inhibit this interaction. However, the amount of resveratrol necessary to provide anti-aging effects is unknown. According to Dr. Sinclair of Biomol Research Laboratories in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, “one glass of wine is enough…within one day of popping the cork,” as resveratrol is highly unstable in the air.
May help dermatitis and psoriasis when used with honey and beeswax
In a 2003 study in Complementary Treatments in Medicine, it was found that twice-daily application of a 1:1:1 mixture of honey, beeswax and olive oil improved symptoms of dermatitis in 8/10 patients and improved psoriasis in 5/8 patients after two weeks. However, as the study was only partially controlled, this may be considered purely speculative.
Delayed barrier function
According to a 2002 study in Acta Paediatrica, it was found that olive oil significantly delayed recovery of barrier function compared with control- or Aquaphor-treated skin. Barrier function may be measured by both noninvasive (surface hydration, transepidermal water loss) and invasive methods (water permeation, niacinamide flux).
Does olive oil irritate the skin?
Olive oil has been reported to cause contact allergy in some individuals, although which component causes olive oil to be irritating could not be found. However, it was proposed in a 1997 study in the journal Contact Dermatitis that olive oil is a very weak irritant in general, but bears relevant irritant capacity when applied to patients with venous insufficiency and associated eczema of the lower extremities.
Does the type of olive oil used matter?
Yes. All of the aforementioned studies used “extra virgin olive oil” (that’s EVOO to you Rachael Ray fans) in their studies. According to Wikipedia, extra virgin olive oil comes from “the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil.” Unfortunately, a 2007 article in The New Yorker reported that only about 40% of the olive oil sold routinely meets requirements, and it is also impossible to tell which form of olive oil is used in skin care products.
What are some skin care products that contain olive oil?
1. N.V. Perricone Nutrient Face Fortifier ($90.00, Sephora.com).
Contains a high concentration of olive oil primarily for antioxidant benefits, DMAE for facial firming, copper to firm, and lower concentrations of antioxidant green tea and vitamin E. Not a bad product, but very expensive for a product with olive oil as the main ingredient, which has not been shown to significantly improve skin imperfections (try these instead) or been shown to be amongst the most potent antioxidants (like the CoffeeBerry in RevaléSkin). Product rating: 7/10
2. N.V. Perricone Olive Oil Polyphenols Face Hydrator ($70, Sephora.com).
Very similar to the N.V. Perricone Nutrient Face Fortifier, but with more hydrating ingredients and a lower price tag. The DMAE should firm the skin, although, again, this is a high price tag. See above for more information. Product rating: 7/10
3. Olivella Virgin Olive Oil Hand Cream ($10.50, Amazon.com)
So how does olive oil measure up to other skin care ingredients?
Based on current research, it seems that there are better antioxidants and UV damage protectors to topically apply to your skin than olive oil (like the CoffeeBerry in RevaléSkin) and combinations of antioxidants (in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, amongst others). However, ingesting olive oil as a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet may have pronounced benefits, as mentioned in the book Olive Oil: Chemistry and Technology. As a result, eat up!