Many of us keep a bottle of olive oil on hand for cooking, baking and whipping up homemade salad dressings, but you might not be aware of all the health benefits packed into this oil. Despite what we tend to think about oils -- that they're all bad for our waistline and our heart -- olive oil is not bad for you. In fact, it contains monounsaturated fat, unsaturated fats that are known to bolster cardiovascular health. Including olive oil in your diet can lower your risk of developing heart disease, lower your levels of bad cholesterol and lower your blood pressure. It may also be a beneficial addition to your beauty regimen.
Here we have five ways olive oil, eaten with your favorite foods or applied topically, is good for skin. Let's begin with what olive oil and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen have in common.
What Olive Oil and Ibuprofen Have in Common
What do olive oil and the over-the-counter pain reliever ibuprofen have in common? Their antiinflammatory effects. Some types of inflammatory skin conditions include psoriasis and forms of dermatitis including atopic (a chronic form of eczema), contact dermatitis (an allergic reaction) and seborrheic dermatitis (which you know as dandruff). Olive oil contains a compound known as oleocanthal, which has been found to stop the activity of two specific enzymes (Cox-1 and Cox-2) at the heart of inflammatory conditions in the body in a similar way as ibuprofen and other NSAIDs. About 1.75 ounces (50 grams) of olive oil in your daily diet equals roughly 10 percent of the recommended adult dose of ibuprofen.
It May Protect Against Damaging UV Rays
Olive oil is more than just good for your heart -- and your pasta -- it may be good at protecting you from developing skin cancer, specifically the deadly form known as melanoma. Olives and olive oil are packed with antioxidants, the body's built-in defense against free radicals, molecules that become damaged by sun exposure among other environmental hazards. Free radicals damage healthy cells, which can lead to cancerous tumor formation. They can also lead to a loss of collagen and elastin, two things in your skin that keep you looking young, as well, making olive oil a good choice in the battle against cancer and fighting the effects of premature aging.
It Soothes Chapped Lips
Your lips are thin-skinned, and that thin skin leaves them prone to drying out or becoming chapped when they're exposed to cold weather, dry climates, sun, wind and even something you might not notice you're doing: breathing through your mouth. When you're caught without your favorite lip balm there's a quick and easy solution at hand -- apply a light coating of oil to your lips a few times a day to heal the damage and give you smooth, soft lips (especially helpful overnight). Olive oil can also be used as a gentle exfoliator by mixing it with a pinch of sugar and rubbing the paste on your pucker.
A word of warning to those prone to breakouts: Olive oil is a good moisturizer but because it's an oil, it may cause breakouts or some irritation around your mouth.
It May Have Antimicrobial Benefits
If you're wary of taking antibiotics because their usage can increase the risk of superbugs there may be an antimicrobial, antibacterial remedy right in your kitchen pantty: Unrefined olive oil may help treat microbial skin infections. In fact, a mixture of olive oil, honey and beeswax appears to be a successful treatment for a variety of skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis and diaper dermatitis (diaper rash). The mixture has also shown useful against the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, and possibly against Candida albicans which causes yeast infections. Alone, olive oil itself has shown it has an antibacterial effect against bacteria, including not only staph but E. coli, Listeria and other foodborne pathogens [source: Palumbo].
It Hydrates Very Dry Skin
While you may reach for a thick, moisture-trapping emollient hand cream to help relieve your dry, cracked winter skin, you'll likely get similar results with the extra virgin olive oil stored in your pantry -- whether you ingest it or apply it topically.
Unrefined olive oil is full of inflammation-inhibiting antioxidants, which means it will help relieve skin conditions such as eczema. But among those antioxidants is one called squalene, an antioxidant known for its skin health benefits as well as its cancer-fighting properties. The antioxidants in olive oil help repair skin damage, soothe and relieve chapped, itchy and cracked skin and help rebuild the skin's moisture barrier to prevent further moisture loss from occurring -- and as a bonus those antioxidants will also reduce damage that leads to wrinkles and discoloration.