One of ancient Greek myths tells a story of the warrior-goddess Athena’s argument with the ruler of the seas Poseidon over who would be the protector of the beautiful city of Attica. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and a fountain of salt water sprang out of it. In response Athena thrust her spear into the ground and it turned into an olive tree covered with fruit. The people of the city accepted Athena’s gift with gratitude and named the city in her honour—Athens is to this day the capital of Greece. As for Poseidon, he wasn’t one to let go of grudges easily, so he sent one of his sons to avenge him. Obedient to his father’s will, Halirrhothius tried in the dead of the night to cut down the olive tree, but his axe sprung back and struck him instead.
Olive groves were sacred in Greece and no mortal was allowed to cut down trees. The Olympic games champions were crowned with diadems made of olive branches gathered in the sacred groves and brides decorated their garments with olive leaves to celebrate their chastity. In the Roman Empire olive branch symbolised peace. It is still one of the important symbols of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Olive oil is still an essential part of anointing oil, used in Christian rituals of baptism, confirmation, ordaining and extreme unction.
Olive oil is used both to greet the ones who come to this world and to attend to the dying.
In case of olive trees, legends are often confirmed by today’s scientific data. In ancient times olive oil was used to treat wounds and ease the pain. One of the key stages of athletes’ training in ancient Greece was rubbing olive oil into their skin — it was supposed to strengthen the muscles and make them insusceptible to pain. Biochemical research has demonstrated that olive oil contains oleocanthal, a substance with anti-inflammatory and anaesthetic effect, and its mechanism of action has similarities with that of Ibuprofen and other modern anti-inflammatory drugs.
The base of olive oil consists of fatty acids, mostly (as much as 80% in some cases) oleic acid.
The contents of oleic acid in the oil depend on the sort of the tree, ripening conditions and harvesting time. The most valuable oil is the one that contains a maximum amount of oleic acid—usually it will also have a maximum amount of vitamins A and E with stimulating, healing and rejuvenating effect on the skin. Besides fats, olive oil contains polyphenols, their derivatives with antioxidant properties, squalene, terpenes and beta-sitosterol, lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood. It is squalene that helps clean the blood vessels. Vitamins B, C, F and K along with other beneficial ingredients produce a softening, healing and stimulating effect, not only quickly healing the wounds, but also slowing down the skin’s ageing.
Olive oil is considered one of the best basic ones to create essential oils compositions — it is hypoallergenic and neutral enough to preserve the qualities of other plant oils and extracts, and the olive oil-based compositions can be used for a variety of purposes.
Anyone with an interest in cosmetology would be interested to know about the numerous and diverse beneficial qualities of olive oil. Thanks to the high content of oleic acid, olive oil can impact the fat metabolism in the deep layers of the skin, which makes it a valuable ingredient of anti-cellulite solutions. With regular use olive oil smoothes out the skin, reduces cellulite and even makes the stretch marks less visible. Vitamins and antioxidants help the skin recover from ultraviolet damage, so olive oil is good for sunburns and restoring the skin after suntanning. Oleocanthal decreases the intensity of pain and inflammation, so olive-oil based solutions can be used to restore the skin after damage or injury, including aesthetic surgery, dermabrasion and laser resurfacing. Olive oil is also good for the hair, especially if a patient is suffering from seborrhea sicca or hair loss—applying the oil onto the scalp and hair prevents the appearance of scurf, strengthens the follicles and makes the hair shiny and elastic.
For many years olive oil has been used to care for dry skin.
It was believed that the application of pure oil onto dry skin would soften and nourish the skin, make it thicker and more resilient, restore its protective properties. However latest research has demonstrated that olive oil should not be used constantly—its fatty acids “melt” the lipid stratum of the skin’s upper layers, breaking through into the deeper layers like an ice-breaker. The skin’s own ability to retain water weakens and it dries up and becomes thin, quite the contrary of what you’d expect. Therefore, olive oil, like all vegetable oils actually, works best in the composition of cosmetic solutions. If the oil is applied in its pure form, its use needs to be limited to one-two weeks at a time with breaks in between to let the skin restore its protective system.
Olive oil is also a source of squalene — nonsaponifying fat found in olive stones.
Squalene oxidises easily, and for this reason is rarely used in cosmetic formulations, but its “cousin”, squalane, derived by hydrogenation of squalene, is not subject to auto-oxidation and therefore more stable.
Squalane obtained from olive oil is practically identical to human skin squalane, and this makes it suitable for application to nourish and soften all skin types at all ages. Squalane is one of the best emollients and softening agents, able to improve the skin’s barrier and protective properties, smooth out the skin surface and support its microbiome diversity. The contents of squalane in the upper layers of young healthy skin is close to 12%. With age the amount of squalane in the skin decreases, and the application of identical plant-origin squalane can improve the skin’s health as well as soften it. Studies confirm that squalane is able to penetrate into the skin relatively deep, soaking the lamellar structures of the keratinous layer. Squalane has high fluidity, which makes for very comfortable application of cosmetics — a product with squalane spreads effortlessly on the skin surface improving its look and feel.
Research demonstrated that the use of cosmetic products with squalane improves cell regeneration and oxygenation, helps prevent pigmentation, reduces UV damage and the depth of wrinkles, and can even bring relief to patients suffering from eczema, psoriasis or skin injury. Squalane is beneficial for acne, it is a natural prebiotic — an agent suppressing the growth of pathogenic bacteria and supporting microbiome diversity.
Squalane is very stable and not subject to oxidisation, which is very important for a cosmetic product’s shelf life, which is usually several years since manufacture.
One more huge benefit of plant-based squalane is that thanks to its biochemical synthesis from olive oil, cosmetic companies stopped using squalane derived from shark liver. Today, we’re happy to say, the production of squalane from sharks’ organs has stopped entirely, which helps preserve shark population in the world ocean.
Apart from face care, olive squalane is used in medical skincare for dermatoses patients, hand and feet creams, hair conditioners and masks, and as an enhancer to increase the penetration of other active ingredients into the deeper skin layers.