Olive Oil May Be Beneficial for Overall Healthy Skin, but May Not Be Safe for Acne-prone Skin
The Essential Info
4 Positives: Topical olive oil can:
- Delay bacterial growth
- Promote wound healing
- Provide antioxidants to the skin
- Increase topical medication absorption
These four properties make olive oil a potentially beneficial oil for overall skin health.
1 Unknown: It is important for people with acne to maintain a strong skin barrier. Studies show us conflicting results regarding how olive oil affects the skin barrier, with two studies showing us it may negatively affect the skin barrier and two studies showing it may positively affect the skin barrier.
1 Big Negative: Research has found that olive oil may be slightly comedogenic, meaning that it may clog pores to some degree.
The Bottom Line: While olive oil may be beneficial for the skin overall, it may be ill-suited for people with acne-prone skin. Other non-comedogenic oils, like sunflower oil, safflower oil, and jojoba oil are better choices for people with acne because they are beneficial for skin health and do not clog pores.
- How Olive Oil Acts on the Skin
- Skin Barrier
- Antibacterial Properties
- Wound Healing
- Increase in Skin Absorption
People have used oils, including olive oil, on the skin for centuries because some oils can help to improve:
- Skin hydration – some oils can help keep moisture inside the skin
- General skin condition – oils can provide a protective barrier on the skin
Oils are made up of molecules called fatty acids, which can have both beneficial properties as well as downsides. Each oil contains its own unique types and amounts of fatty acids, which provide the oil with different properties.
Olive oil is composed of three main fatty acids:
- Oleic acid (72.8%)
- Palmitic acid (11.5%)
- Linoleic acid (10.8%)
It also contains vitamins A, D, E, K, and other antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for the skin because they help to counteract the effect of toxic molecules that can harm the skin.
Scientists have found that both topical application and oral consumption of olive oil has the following effects on the skin:
- Anti-inflammatory – this is potentially interesting because acne is an inflammatory disease
One big negative: However, on the downside, the fatty acid mixture found in some oils make the oil comedogenic (clogs pores).1-2 When tested on rabbit ears, olive oil scored a 2 out of 5 for pore clogging, which is considered only mildly comedogenic, but comedogenic nonetheless.3-5
Other oils, like sunflower oil, safflower oil, and jojoba oil, are non-comedogenic (do not clog pores), and are better options for people with acne.
How Olive Oil Acts on the Skin
Olive oil acts on the skin through five distinct mechanisms. These include:
- Affecting the skin barrier
- Possessing antibacterial properties
- Supporting wound healing
- Providing antioxidants
- Increasing permeability of the skin
Let’s have a closer look at these mechanisms now, one by one.
Olive Oil and the Skin Barrier
A strong skin barrier is crucial for healthy skin. The skin barrier:
- Maintains skin hydration
- Prevents harmful substances from entering into the body
People with acne may have an impaired skin barrier function, so when it comes to acne, it is imperative that we keep the skin barrier intact and healthy.
Scientists investigating the effect of olive oil on the skin barrier have reported conflicting conclusions:
- Two studies found that olive oil may decrease barrier function.6,7
- Two other studies have found that olive oil may increase barrier function.3,8
In other words, we don’t know if olive oil is good or bad for the skin barrier.
Expand to read details of studies on olive oil and decreased skin barrier function
Expand to read details of studies on olive oil and increased skin barrier function
Olive Oil and Antibacterial Properties
Studies examining the antibacterial effect of olive oil, while not all in agreement, have generally found that olive oil may have some antibacterial properties. Acne is, in part, a bacterial disease, so this would suggest that olive oil might be at least somewhat helpful in this way.5,9,10
Expand to read details of studies on olive oil and antibacterial properties
On the other hand, lab studies also show that some components of olive oil may stimulate the growth of Malassezia, a type of fungus that can cause inflammation of the skin.11,12 In other words, while olive oil might halt the growth of bacteria that contribute to acne, it might simultaneously promote the growth of fungus, which can lead to other skin conditions.
“Based on the evidence currently available, it may be prudent to avoid organic oils, especially olive oil, when treating…inflammatory skin diseases.”12
Olive Oil and Wound Healing
Acne lesions are a type of wound, and inflammation is always present in and around acne lesions. Inflammation can delay wound healing, lead to scarring, and increase the chance that hyperpigmentation (red/dark marks) will be left on the skin after the lesion heals.
Studies have shown that olive oil can promote wound healing and reduce inflammation in both animals and humans. The studies below include research on both topical and oral olive oil. However, keep in mind when reading the studies that the effects of oral olive in the diet may not be the same when it comes to topical olive oil.13-17
Expand to read details of studies on olive oil and wound healing
Olive Oil and Antioxidants
Antioxidants are important molecules that counteract the effect of harmful chemicals found in the skin. Olive oil contains antioxidants, including vitamin E, which is the most abundant antioxidant naturally found in the skin.
Topical application of olive oil increases the levels of antioxidants in the skin and promotes the production of additional antioxidant compounds inside skin cells.18-20 Maintaining an adequate amount of antioxidants in the skin may be important for acne, so in this way, olive oil could potentially be beneficial.
Olive Oil and An Increase in Skin Absorption
Oils are substances that can increase the absorption of medications or other molecules into the skin. Oils with a large amount of oleic acid are the best at increasing skin absorption. Olive oil is composed of nearly 80% oleic acid, so olive oil can increase the absorption of drugs or other molecules into the skin.21 This would be a potentially beneficial quality for increasing absorption of acne medication.
Overall, olive oil may be beneficial for skin health. However, due to its mildly comedogenic properties, it is not recommended for acne-prone skin. Other oils, such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, and jojoba oil may be better options for acne sufferers, since they are beneficial to the skin and also non-comedogenic.
- Parente, M. E., Gámbaro, A., Boinbaser, L. & Roascio, A. Sensory characterization of virgin olive oil-based cosmetic creams. J. Cosmet. Sci. 64, 371 – 380 (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24139435
- Fulton, J. E. Comedogenicity and irritancy of commonly used ingredients in skin care products. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 40, 321 – 333 (1989). http://www.nononsensecosmethic.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Comedogenicity-and-irritacy-of-commonly-used-ingredients.pdf
- Cooke, A. et al. Olive oil, sunflower oil or no oil for baby dry skin or massage: A pilot, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled trial (the Oil in Baby SkincaRE [OBSeRvE] Study). Acta Derm. Venereol. 96, 323 – 331 (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26551528
- Viola, P. & Viola, M. Virgin olive oil as a fundamental nutritional component and skin protector. Clin. Dermatol. 27, 159 – 165 (2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19167997
- Sumer, Z., Yildirim, G., Sumer, H. & Yildirim, S. Cytotoxic and antibacterial activity of the mixture of olive oil and lime cream in vitro conditions. African J. Tradit. Complement. Altern. Med. 10, 137 – 143 (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3794404/
- Darmstadt, G. L. et al. Impact of topical oils on the skin barrier: possible implications for neonatal health in developing countries. Acta Paediatr. 91, 546 – 554 (2002). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12113324
- Danby, S. G. et al. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: Implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr. Dermatol. 30, 42 – 50 (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22995032
- Kiechl-Kohlendorfer, U., Berger, C. & Inzinger, R. The effect of daily treatment with an olive oil/lanolin emollient on skin integrity in preterm infants: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatr. Dermatol. 25, 174 – 178 (2008). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2008.00627.x
- Al-Waili, N. S. Mixture of honey, beeswax and olive oil inhibits growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. Arch. Med. Res. 36, 10 – 13 (2005). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15777988
- Kishikawa, A. et al. Multiple biological effects of olive oil by-products such as leaves, stems, flowers, olive milled waste, fruit pulp, and seeds of the olive plant on skin. Phyther. Res. 29, 877 – 886 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25779104
- Karagounis, T. K., Gittler, J. K., Rotemberg, V. & Morel, K. D. Use of “natural” oils for moisturization: Review of olive, coconut, and sunflower seed oil. Pediatr. Dermatol. 36, 9 – 15. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30152555
- Siegfried, E. & Glenn, E. Use of olive oil for the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis in children. Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med. 166, 967 (2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22893193
- Edraki, M., Akbarzadeh, A., Hosseinzadeh, M. & Tanideh, N. Healing effect of sea buckthorn, olive oil, and their mixture on full-thickness burn wounds. Adv. Skin Wound Care 27, 317 – 323 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24932952
- Rosa, A. D. S., Bandeira, L. G., Monte-Alto-Costa, A. & Romana-Souza, B. Supplementation with olive oil, but not fish oil, improves cutaneous wound healing in stressed mice. Wound Repair Regen. 22, 537 – 547 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25041622
- Panahi, Y. et al. Comparative trial of Aloe vera/ olive oil combination cream versus phenytoin cream in the treatment of chronic wounds. J. Wound Care 24>, 459 – 465 (2015).
- Najmi, M., Shariatpanahi, Z. V., Tolouei, M. & Amiri, Z. Effect of oral olive oil on healing of 10-20% total body surface area burn wounds in hospitalized patients. Burns 41, 493 – 496 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25306088
- Donato-Trancoso, A., Monte-Alto-Costa, A. & Romana-Souza, B. Olive oil-induced reduction of oxidative damage and inflammation promotes wound healing of pressure ulcers in mice. J. Dermatol. Sci. 83, 60 – 69 (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27091748
- Bowe, W. P. & Pugliese, S. Cosmetic benefits of natural ingredients. J. Drugs Dermatol. 13, 1021 – 1025 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25226001
- Gorzynik-Debicka, M., Przychodzen, P., Cappello, F. et al. Potential health benefits of olive oil and plant polyphenols. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 19, 686 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877547/
- Jeon, S. & Choi, M. Anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects of hydroxytyrosol on human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs). Biomed. Dermatol. 2, 21 (2018). https://biomeddermatol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41702-018-0031-x#citeas
- Viljoen, J. M., Cowley, A., du Preez, J., Gerber, M. & du Plessis, J. Penetration enhancing effects of selected natural oils utilized in topical dosage forms. Drug Dev. Ind. Pharm. 41, 2045 – 2054 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26161938