Sophia Loren’s love affair with olive oil is one of the greatest Hollywood romances of all time. She’s known to swallow two teaspoons with her daily meals, use a dollop as a moisturizer to keep her skin radiant, and soak regularly in an oil-infused bath. All that has me thinking: If olive oil is the reason this voluptuous actress still has a goddess glow at 85, what wonders could it do for the rest of us?
Using olive oil for skin was a tried-and-true beauty secret long before Loren’s time—like, we’re talking ancient Egypt. It has nutrients that nourish and soften skin and leaves behind a luxurious sheen. But they didn’t have dermatologists in the days of pyramids. Now that we do, we’ve got to ask if olive oil is even safe to put on our skin? Or is the Mediterranean (skin) diet best left in the past?
“While olive oil is generally safe, it may not be the best overall choice for skin-care,” says board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. “It does have antioxidant properties and can help moisturize. It contains many vitamins, including vitamin E, which gives some anti-aging benefits, but it still does not compare to other anti-aging powerhouses, like retinols and retinoids.” The biggest caveat? “Olive oil can clog pores and exacerbate acne, so it’s not a great choice if you are acne prone or if your skin tends to be more oily at baseline,” she says.
That doesn’t mean that olive oil is evil by any means! It’s just a friendly reminder that “natural” does not always equal good, and oils on their own can have the potential to be problematic (see: coconut oil as lube).
But let’s not deny that olive oil can still be a beauty powerhouse. Those antioxidants are effective skin protectors and the vitamin E can keep you looking youthful. The key is to use it as a moisturizing element in your skincare products, instead of as the moisturizer itself.
“If you want to integrate olive oil into a routine, it’s better as a hydrating mask for hair or as an additive ingredient in body moisturizer for dry skin,” says Dr. Farbar. “Olive oil-based cleansers can also be a way to use olive oil that’s generally less likely to cause clogging.”
One more word of advice when it comes to olive oil for skin? You always want to give it a spot test before you go full in, especially if your skin is already high on oils. “If you are trying to integrate a new product with olive oil into your routine, it’s best to do a test spot to ensure you tolerate it, and if you’re unsure, always ask a dermatologist,” says Dr. Farber.
6 products that use olive oil for skin correctly
Beauty editor Rachel Lapidos says that everything Marie Veronique formulates is a nourishing essential, friendly to all skin types. Trying to defend against damaging UV rays? The brand’s protective day oil plays well with other products, delivering all of the healthy vitamins your skin needs in order to be that winning trifecta: dewy, plump, and happy.
Shop now: Marie Veronique Protective Day Oil, $65
Okay, okay, it’s a splurge for sure. But the Tata Harper Retinoic Oil gives your skin a bonus: the smoothing benefits of Vitamin A. It also hydrates—tip a hat to olive oil, for that!—and protects with a potent mix of antioxidants, amino acids, and minerals.
Shop now: Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil, $132
3. Honest Organic Beauty Facial Oil, $28
If your skin feels practically parched these days, use a drop of Honest’s Organic Beauty Facial Oil, which gets Jessica Alba’s kiss of approval. Olive oil is joined by avocado, apricot, and jojoba oils for an extra dose of nourishment. Plus, a blend of rose, ylang-ylang, and clove adds a soft, heavenly aroma.
Shop now: Honest Organic Beauty Facial Oil, $28
4. DHC Olive Concentrated Cleansing Oil, $32
This is the closest you’re probably going to get to washing your face with olive oil fresh from the Mediterranean coast (without any of the pore-clogging drama). Jam-packed with antioxidants, this removes makeup and rinses clean, all while conditioning your skin.
Shop now: DHC Olive Concentrated Cleansing Oil, $32
5. Loli Date Nut Brûlée, $48
Brûlée? Sounds delicious—and for good reason. This dreamy balm aims to smooth out all of your roughest spots, from head to toe. That green tint is a nod to one of the moisturizer’s main ingredients (big surprise: olive oil!), and the magic ingredient is joined by a power team of sunflower wax, tamanu oil, and date-nut oil.
Shop now: Loli Date Nut Brûlée, $48
For a glow like Cleopatra herself…or at least Penny Lane (Kate Hudson swears by this six-ingredient wonder). The do-it-all balm does more than soothe skin; fans say it can reduce the appearance of scars and stretch-marks, too. The cream melts with the warmth of your skin, turning into the perfect, not-too-greasy oil consistency. This stuff will transform your skincare routine.
Shop now: Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream, $32