Ask a Dermatologist: Can You Use Olive Oil for Your Skin?

TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Emollient, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory.

MAIN BENEFITS: Moisturizes dry skin, protects against premature aging, manages sun damage.

WHO SHOULD USE IT: In general, most skin types can benefit from olive oil, but those with sensitive, acne-prone skin should steer clear.

HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Olive oil is safe to use on the skin daily.

WORKS WELL WITH: Humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and amino acids.

DON'T USE WITH: Generally, olive oil is safe to use with most ingredients.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is derived from pressing the oil out of a whole olive fruit. It's rich in monounsaturated fatty acids—healthy fats that pose a variety of health and cosmetic benefits—and also contains skin-loving antioxidants. "Plant oils have been used for medical and cosmetic purposes because they have a multitude of benefits," explains board-certified dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki. "Depending on the composition of the plant oil, some oils work better than others at specific issues." Olive oil is among those high-performing plant oils, and is praised for its emollient, moisturizing properties. You can find this wonder oil in anything from serums to facial cleansers, but it's also available in its pure form with humectants added to be suitable for skincare. Bear in mind that olive oil can be ruined from excessive heat, light, or oxygen—storing it in a cool area with a tightly sealed lid is best.

Benefits of Olive Oil for Skin

Olive oil is brimming with skin benefits, from moisturizing dry patches to breaking down stubborn makeup.

  • Prevents water loss: "Olive oil’s main benefit is to moisturize the skin by reducing water loss," says Ee Ting Ng, cosmetic chemist and founder of Australian-based skincare brand Hop & Cotton. "This moisturization increases the water content of the skin, improving its health and appearance."
  • Protects against environmental damage: "Olive oil's antioxidant properties protect skin cells against environmental damage and inflammation," notes Ng. "This means protection against premature aging as well as signs of irritation or redness."
  • Prevents premature aging: "Olive oil is rich in vitamins A, D, K and E, as well as squalene," says Skotnicki. "These can aid with decreasing oxidative stress on the skin (which could lead to accelerated skin aging)."
  • Lifts makeup: "Olive oil is great for breaking down waxy substances like waterproof mascara and eyeliner," explains Lorenc. "With the added benefits of antioxidants and hydrating squalene, it moisturizes the delicate skin in the eye area, plus nourishes eyelashes the same way conditioner works on the hair." While olive oil can lift off and move oil-soluble residues (like makeup and sebum) around the skin, it cannot remove them from the skin surface—a surfactant is needed to fully remove makeup.
  • Heals wounds: Skotnicki maintains that the anti-inflammatory ingredients found in olive oil may aid in wound healing. "Triterpenes, which are present in many plant oils and in particular olive oil, aid in many biological reactions like those necessary for wound healing: cell migration, cell proliferation, and collagen deposition," she says. "They enhance wound repair by reducing the length of time for wound closure."

Side Effects of Olive Oil

While any skin type can benefit from olive oil, both Ng and Skotnicki advise against using it if your skin is congested or acneic. "The fatty acids prevalent in olive oil—and all plant oils and butters in general—are the very food source for acne-causing bacteria and yeasts to grow," notes Ng. "Thus, olive oil is not ideal for acne-prone skins." Skotnicki agrees, adding that the oleic acid component of olive oil can exacerbate dermatitis and shouldn't be used near infants. Also, olive oil doesn't appear to have an antibacterial effect like some other plant oils (most notably, coconut oil), so it shouldn't be used as a makeup remover on its own. Finally, according to Ng, if your skin skews oily, it naturally produces high levels of sebum, making the need for more emollients unnecessary in your daily routine.

How to Use It

Olive oil can be found in many skincare products, namely serums and facial oils. "Being an emollient with occlusive properties, olive oil will work best when maximum moisture is sealed into the skin, which is typically at the last step of the routine (in the day, use just before sunscreen)," says Ng. "You can use it before or mixed in with your moisturizer." And as with all moisturizers, the best time to apply olive oil is when your skin is still slightly wet from your shower or bath.

Because olive oil is an oil after all, Lorenc urges that less is more. "There is no reason to walk around dripping with olive oil to receive its incredible benefits," he says. "In fact, using too much may also lead to clogged pores in some skin types."

The Best Products With Olive Oil

Skotnicki recommends this skin-refining oil, as it utilizes the powerful antioxidant squalene, which helps skin retain moisture on the face, lips, and body.

Have problematic skin? This balancing face wash is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that wash away impurities and fend off signs of aging.

"I recommend using certified-organic, non-GMO, cold-pressed, and unrefined extra-virgin olive oil because it is produced without the use of heat or chemical refining, and contains the highest concentration of olive oil's beneficial compounds," says Lorenc. "It also contains zero preservatives or additives that can be harmful to the body."

This ishonest-approved cleansing oil effectively removes makeup and softens the skin without causing irritation.

This luxe moisturizer is lightweight yet packs a hydrating punch—100% organic olive oil along with olive-derived squalene and hydrogenated rice bran oil make for an antioxidant-rich formula that deliver ultra-soft results.

Use morning or evening, this moisturizer spotlights four raw oils: extra virgin olive, almond, grapeseed, and vitamin E, for skin that's radiant, smooth, and even-toned.

Nourish parched hands with this olive oil-infused cream that softens—sans greasiness.

Wolosik K, Knas M, Zalewska A, Niczyporuk M, Przystupa AW. The importance and perspective of plant-based squalene in cosmetology. J Cosmet Sci. 2013;64(1): 59-66.

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