Ingredient Science

Olive Oil

The scoop on nature's oils from olives for your skin care

Credits: stevepb at
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is extracted or pressed from ripe olives of the Olea Europea tree. This natural fat is made up of primarily unsaturated fatty acids (oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acid) and is used in products such as bath soaps, hair conditioners, shampoos, moisturizers, and sunscreen/suntan lotions. 

Oleic acid is the primary fatty acid found in olive oil. The unique chemical structure of fatty acids contributes to olive oil’s versatility in cosmetic products.

Credit: PubMed


What Does Olive Oil Do?

The molecular structure of olive oil includes fatty acids, glycerol, phosphatides, pigments, and various polyphenols.[1]

 These multiple constituents of olive oil contribute to its multiple functions.

Olive Oil Added In Cosmetics

  • Cleanses, emulsifies, and increases the viscosity of various oil/water mixed products[2]
  • Slows the evaporation of water from the skin[3]
  • Acts as a fragrance[4]


Ingredients Similar to Olive Oil Include:

  • Salt versions of olive oil, including potassium olivate and sodium olivate
  • Hydrogenated olive oil

*Olive oil salts are found in cleaning products, while hydrogenated olive oil gives lotions and moisturizers texture and consistency.


Potential Side Effects of Olive Oil?

The Cosmetic Info Review categorizes olive oil as a plant-derived fatty acid oil. It is recognized as a generally safe and low hazard ingredient with no major health risks or allergies associated with use. With that being said…

  • Olive oil application has been demonstrated to weaken stratum corneum integrity and contribute to a decrease in skin barrier function[2]
  • Olive oil formulas may contribute to the worsening of atopic dermatitis and red dry skin.[5]


What About Wounds?

While olive oil has been demonstrated to weaken skin barrier function, researchers are still interested in other components of topical application. Olive oil has been cited as a key ingredient in wound healing for burns,[6] as well as pressure ulcers[6] in human studies. While olive oil may be a poor cosmetic addition to routine skin care, it may prove to be beneficial in specific instances, such as wound care.


How Should I Use Olive Oil?

  • Given that olive oil application may be detrimental to skin barrier function, it may be best to avoid topical application of olive oil by itself as a skin moisturizer.
  • Hair products that include olive oil in their formula may help with stabilizing hair structure, preventing frizz and split ends.[7] Start with a small amount of product and apply while hair is still wet, to lock in moisture.
  • Olive oil is indicated as beneficial when included in one’s daily diet compared to only cosmetic care.[8] Substituting olive oil for trans fats such as hydrogenated vegetable oils found in processed/fried foods may be a healthier alternative.
  • A serving of olive oil is equivalent to 1 tablespoon per day. Use of olive oil with recipes can be found here.

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  1. Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci.2017;19(1)PMID: 29280987 Link to research.
  2. Kaur CD, Saraf S. In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Res.2010;2(1):22-25; PMID: 21808534 Link to research.
  3. Madison KC. Barrier function of the skin: "la raison d'etre" of the epidermis. J Invest Dermatol.2003;121(2):231-241; PMID: 12880413 Link to research.
  4. Parente ME, Gambaro A, Boinbaser L, et al. Sensory characterization of virgin olive oil-based cosmetic creams. J Cosmet Sci.2013;64(5):371-380; PMID: 24139435 Link to research.
  5. Goddard AL, Lio PA. Alternative, Complementary, and Forgotten Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.2015;2015:676897; PMID: 26257817 Link to research.
  6. Lupianez-Perez I, Uttumchandani SK, Morilla-Herrera JC, et al. Topical olive oil is not inferior to hyperoxygenated fatty aids to prevent pressure ulcers in high-risk immobilised patients in home care. Results of a multicentre randomised triple-blind controlled non-inferiority trial. PLoS One.2015;10(4):e0122238; PMID: 25886152 Link to research.
  7. Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology.2015;7(1):2-15; PMID: 25878443 Link to research.
  8. Rigacci S, Stefani M. Nutraceutical Properties of Olive Oil Polyphenols. An Itinerary from Cultured Cells through Animal Models to Humans. Int J Mol Sci.2016;17(6)PMID: 27258251 Link to research.