Is Olive Oil Good for Your Skin? We Asked Experts
If you're an avid skincare fan, you probably love facial oils, especially if it's an ingredient that's already sitting in your kitchen pantry. Case in point: olive oil has long been hailed for its topical benefits (Cleopatra was even said to have been a fan). But while a Mediterranean diet can work wonders for the skin, it's questionable whether applying olive oil to your face is the best idea. We asked the experts for their take on whether you should (or shouldn't) use olive oil on skin.
Olive Oil Benefits for Skin
It is true that olive oil has a slew of skincare benefits. The emollient is chock-full of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants, so it has excellent moisturizing properties. If you suffer from extremely dry and/or compromised skin, olive oil might be a good option to reach for—especially during the cold winter months.
"The integrity of our skin relies on the lipid barrier, which holds the individual skin cells together—when the weather is cold, we generally begin utilizing heaters which evaporate the liquid barrier of the skin and lead to dry, cracked skin," explains Neda Mehr, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Pure Dermatology Cosmetic & Hair Center in Newport Beach, Calif. "Olive oil is an excellent skin moisturizer, especially when applied to wet skin when the pores are open, and can act as a second skin barrier for dry, cracked skin in the winter."
Another great benefit of olive oil is its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dermatologists say that the anti-inflammatory ingredients found in olive oil (triterpenes) aid in wound healing by assisting with collagen production and reducing the length of time for wound closure. And studies have shown that olive oil helps heal the skin after a sunburn.
Olive Oil Side Effects for Skin
While olive oil might have some superb moisturizing properties, it can be kind of a nightmare for anyone dealing with acne. "When we talk about disorders of excessive oil production, such as acne, olive oil can be one of the worst products to apply to your skin, as it can clog pores and lead to severe acne breakouts," explains Dr. Mehr.
And while olive oil can help heal sunburn, you certainly don't want to use it while you're being exposed to the sun. "Think about in the '50s, when people would rub on baby oil and cook in the sun," says Dr. Mehr. "Olive oil applied in the mornings without sun protection from either long-sleeve clothing or sunscreen is a recipe for sunburns and potential severe skin damage."
Is Olive Oil Good for Your Skin?
The verdict on whether olive oil should be applied straight to skin is mixed. "As a general rule of thumb, olive oil is not an ideal choice as a skincare product," says Anna Babayan, an esthetician and owner of Anna Babayan Skincare in Boston. "Our skin does not have such enzymes to break down the molecules and allow the benefits of the olive oil to travel into the skin, and as a result, it just sits on top of the skin as a barrier layer and protects the skin from losing water." In order for all of its amazing properties to be useful, olive oil is best ingested, says Babayan.
On the flip side, Dr. Mehr suggests that olive oil can be beneficial for the very same reason. "It can be an excellent option for a patient with atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, which is a disorder of the 'skin glue' holding skin cells together," she says.
However, Dr, Mehr adds that using olive oil as a treatment for dark spots or hyperpigmentation is not worthwhile, despite its antioxidant properties. "This is actually a gross overestimation of its antioxidant properties, as it can lead to acne breakouts and worsen hyperpigmentation if patients use it in the morning and then are exposed to the sun, making them susceptible to more pigmentation," she says.
Ultimately, the only time it's suggested to use olive oil as skincare is if you have very dry or compromised skin and to use it as a protective ingredient in your skincare. "Since people with dry skin types lack oil in their skin, the skin's barrier layer is usually compromised," explains Babayan. "This can lead to water loss and deep dehydration in the skin—using olive oil can create an occlusion and not allow the water to evaporate from the skin."
How to Use Olive Oil for Skin
If you do choose to use straight olive oil on your skin, Dr. Mehr recommends applying the oil within three minutes of getting out of the shower at night (i.e., NEVER before sun exposure). And make sure to massage a few drops over your usual moisturizer to seal in hydration, rather than apply it to a dry face.
"Pat the skin dry [post-shower] and apply several drops of olive oil to the skin, preferably at bedtime, and only on non-acne prone skin (like the hands, forearms, and legs)," says Dr. Mehr. Additionally, make sure you choose an organic, extra-virgin variety, as olives can be sprayed with pesticides, and applying these toxins to the skin is never a good idea.
Olive Oil Alternatives
That being said, there are plenty of oils that are lighter, fast-absorbing, and favorable for most skin types (including acne-prone!), offering that added oomph of moisture without causing breakouts or sun damage.
Ken Howe, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Wexler Dermatology, recommends jojoba oil because the chemical structure is nearly identical to your skin's natural sebum (i.e., the oil you produce naturally). That means it absorbs quickly, minimizes the appearance of pores, and reduces excess oil. He also recommends jojoba for its ability to soothe and moisturize, while also killing the bacteria that causes acne.
Another good choice for acne-prone skin is tea tree oil, according to Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut. She recommends tea tree for its natural antibacterial properties, making it a great natural remedy for active pimples and tool for preventing new breakouts.
And if you're looking for anti-aging benefits, try maracuja oil, which is rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin C. Dr. Robinson recommends this oil for firmer, brighter, and smoother looking skin. "Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which protects the skin from free radical damage and helps repair it," she says.