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Oil cleansing is a big trend right now, as it has been for a while. While oil cleansing is often a mix of castor oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, and grape seed oil, there are a number of people who swear by olive oil alone. This isn’t a new idea, as it were, olive oil was used like soap in Athens over 2000-1000 BC (American Eurasian Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Science).
I’ve noticed an awful lot of articles that recommend cleaning your face with olive oil with no caveats — it’s more instructional about the actual process rather than precautions one should take. Olive oil has many benefits for skin and it can work excellently as a cleanser, but there are definitely warnings any user should heed.
What Are the Benefits of Olive Oil Cleanser?
The oil you dip your bread in can also have great benefits for your skin.[Read More: Spotlight On: Olive Oil]
The chemistry principle of cleaning with olive oil is that “like dissolves like.” What that means is that oil-based makeup and the oil on your skin would dissolve when olive oil is used as a cleanser. I was not able to find any studies comparing pure olive oil with other cleansers.
Two studies have found that olive oil is anti-carcinogenic. One study on mice showed that topical application of olive oil delayed the onset of UVB-caused tumors (Carcinogenesis). Another study on mice found that a diet rich in olive oil helped inhibit lung cancer (Carcinogenesis). This is due, in part, to the several classes of polyphenols it contains (Lancet Oncology).
What Are the Downsides to an Olive Oil Cleanser?
Though it’s very rare, there is the risk of contact dermatitis when using an olive oil cleanser, so it’s best to do a patch test (Contact Dermatitis). Olive oil was found to delay barrier function in one study (Acta Paediatrica). This means that it can negatively impact the skin’s ability to heal.
The real downsides and issues with using olive oil purchased at the grocery store are that you could be using the wrong oil. It’s important to use extra virgin olive oil — this means it comes from the first press of the olives.
But even that isn’t always totally safe. An article in the New Yorker explained that less than 40% of the olive oil sold in the U.S. regularly meets requirements, which means that you might be using oil that can cause irritation or clog pores (New Yorker).
How to Prepare to Use Olive Oil Cleanser Safely
Certain precautions will help make using olive oil as cleanser safely.
First and foremost, if you’re serious about it, it’s best to speak with your dermatologist about whether this method is appropriate for your skin. Next, it’s important to buy 100% pure extra virgin olive oil. Patch test the olive oil somewhere (preferably out of sight), so that if you do have an adverse reaction, you know before putting it all over your face.
Finally, if you have any issues or irritation when using olive oil cleanser, stop immediately.
If you want to try cleansing with olive oil but are concerned about potential issues, such as buying impure olive oil, a good solution is to use cleansers that are formulated with olive oil and intended for your face.
For example, DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($28, amazon.com) is mostly comprised of olive oil, along with rosemary oil, which has antibacterial properties for skin, and vitamin E, which is one of the most powerful naturally-produced antioxidants.[Read More: Product Review: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil]
Olive oil can do wonderful things for you skin when used properly. The idea of using it is based off of the chemistry principle that “like dissolves like.” However, there are issues that some people have with using olive oil, such as decreased barrier function and irritation. By talking to a dermatologist, choosing the right oil, and patch testing, those interested can try olive oil cleansing. But if you want something specifically formulated for your skin, there are products out there that cater to the oil cleansing trend.