Olive oil is known as liquid gold, and for a good reason. This oil is a vegetable oil, but unlike most other vegetable oils it is extracted from the fruit, rather than from the seed. Olive oil is a common staple of the Mediterranean diet, which is now thought to be one of the healthiest cultural diets. It has far more use than just for cooking, though. It can also be used as a carrier oil for essential oils.
History of Olive Carrier Oil
Olive Oil has been in use for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans grew olive trees and would extract the juices from the fruit. Of those cultures, the Greeks placed the most importance on Olive Oil, and on the olive tree in general. Crowns of olive branches would be presented to athletes in the Olympic Games, and athletes would rub olive oil onto their bodies in preparation for massage; something that still happens today.1
Chemical Properties of Olive Oil
There are two main components of olive oils that are of interest to people who wish to use the oil in aromatherapy. They are fatty acids, and phenols. Fatty acids are of interest because of the nutritional implications, and because of the way that the acids can affect the oxidative stability of the oils.
The main fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid, which can make up between 59.3% and 77.3% of the oil depending on the variety of olive in question. The next most common oil is palmitic acid, which makes up between 4.33% and 8.99%, followed by linoleic acid (although some olive oils contain up to 17% linoleic acid), stearic acid, linolenic acid, and palmitoleic acid.
The phenol content of olive oil can be expressed as mg of gallic acid per kg, with Boc olives producing the most concentrated, at 304 mg/kg, and UBT olives producing the least concentrated, at 117 mg/kg.2
Olive oil also contains sterols, which are thought to be beneficial in terms of helping to reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body, and hydrocarbons such as Beta-carotene, which can act as an antioxidant. They also contain vitamin E, which is a tocopherol with antioxidant properties.3
Uses for Olive Carrier Oil
Pre-Shampoo Hair Treatment
Gently warm olive oil, then massage it into the ends of the hair and into your scalp. Leave it for 10 to 20 minutes, and then rinse it out with a mild shampoo. The fatty acids in the olive oil will nourish your hair and moisturize your scalp, and leave you with luxurious looking, healthy hair.
A Lip Scrub
Combine olive oil with some coarse sugar, and a dash of lemon juice to make an all-natural, exfoliating and moisturizing lip scrub. This is particularly good for the winter months. If your lips are dry and flaky because of the weather, then this scrub will help to nourish and protect them. The vitamin E in the olive oil is useful as an antioxidant and is actually useful year-round because of its photoprotective properties.4
If you find alcohol-based facial cleansers too drying for your skin, then try a dab of olive oil on your cotton pads. This can work even if you have greasy skin. Oily skin is something that a lot of people struggle with, and what a lot of people don’t realize is that triglycerides and fatty acids are a key component of sebum.5 Since ‘oil attracts oil’, cleansing your skin with olive oil can help to remove some of the excess sebum, and any dirt with it, leaving you with fresh and healthy skin.
Nail and Cuticle Conditioner
If you struggle with weak, dry nails and hard cuticles, then try using olive oil as a part of a nail bath and cuticle softener. This can be particularly helpful for people who do a lot of work with their hands, or those who work in kitchens and spend a lot of time with wet hands.
Treatment of Eczema and Other Skin Conditions
Olive oil is an intense moisturizer, and this makes it a good choice for treating eczema, contact dermatitis and other similar conditions.6 In addition, because it is a good, non-irritating moisturizer it can be useful as a base for a general antibacterial and antimicrobial cream. Olive oil itself is antimicrobial, and it can be used as a carrier oil for other antimicrobial oils such as tea tree oil to make an all-natural alternative to over the counter creams and lotions.7,8
Nappy Rash and Sunburn Soother
Sunburn is incredibly painful, and nappy rash is too! There are not very many products on the market that are safe for use on a baby’s skin, and if you have sunburn as an adult you’re unlikely to want to use any scented creams on there either. Olive oil is very gentle and can be used as a moisturizing and protective agent. Indeed, in the UK doctors advise parents to use olive oil on their baby’s skin in the place of commercial lotions and creams.9
Hydrating Foot Treatment
Cracked, split and rough heels can take a long time to heal if you are just letting nature take its course, and a lot of the over the counter moisturizers that you can get are not up to the job of treating damaged heels because the skin on your feet is so thick that the moisturizer won’t absorb properly. You can treat your feet by exfoliating with a pumice stone, then massaging some olive oil into the skin before bed. Put on some socks to keep your feet warm and to keep the moisturizing oil on your skin. The moisturizing effects of olive oil are well documented, as are the antioxidant effects, both of which can be hugely beneficial for damaged skin.10,11
The consistency of olive oil makes it a great choice for massage treatments. In addition to all of the skin-treating benefits that are documented above, if you combine olive oil with other relaxing, soothing or invigorating essential oils you can enjoy a massage that will help you to recover from a tough workout, help you to relax after a hard day at work, or simply loosen tense muscles and leave you feeling pampered. Massage works in several ways. The carrier oil helps the essential oils be absorbed through the skin, and the act of massage helps to promote circulation and to relax the muscles.
What Essential Oils It Can Be Paired With
Olive oil makes a very good massage oil. The aroma is quite strong and this means that it may not go well with certain milder scents such as lavender, but there are a lot of other scents that it can go well with.
There are numerous essential oil recipes that can work well with olive oil. One firm favorite is a hair serum:
- 2 ounces of olive oil
- 5 drops of ylang-ylang
- 10 drops of rosemary
- 5 drops of a scent of your choice (cinnamon works well)
Mix the oils up into a 2 oz dropper bottle and shake thoroughly. Each morning, dispense a few drops onto your fingertips and massage into your scalp. You can make an oil-free version of this with witch hazel, which can be a good option if you want something to freshen up your hair during the day.
All Purpose Healing Salves
This makes a great salve for dry hands, blisters, bumps and other day-to-day niggles. If you want something that you can use as an antiseptic instead of relying on commercial creams which may dry or irritate your skin then an essential oil salve is a good idea.
- 2 ounce of coconut oil
- 1 ounce of olive oil
- 7 drops of tea tree
- 7 drops of lemon
- 7 drops of lavender
Put all of the ingredients into a small glass bowl and mix them well with a metal fork. Scoop the finished salve into a pot and seal the pot tightly. Keep the mixture in a cool, dark place. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but melts quickly when it comes into contact with the skin. The olive oil will make it more malleable and easier to spread.
This scrub is ideal for people who want to keep their skin looking fresh all year round. Rubbing off dead skin cells makes your skin look and feel healthier. If you’re going to get a fake tan then scrubbing off any dead skin before applying the tan is a good idea because it will make the tan last longer.
Exfoliating Scrub Recipe
- 1/2 cup of raw olive oil
- 1 cup of sea salt
- 5 drops of lavender
- 5 drops of ylang ylang
- 5 drops of peppermint
Pour the salt into a glass mixing bowl, add the olive oil and mix it with a metal fork. Add the essential oils, and keep stirring until everything is nicely mixed up. Pour the mixture into a glass pot, and seal it until you need to use it. When it’s time to use the scrub, scoop out a dollop about half the size of the palm of your hand, and rub it into your skin. The knees and elbows are some of the roughest areas. You may also want to gently exfoliate any dry patches on your face, but take care not to scrub too vigorously. Use the exfoliating scrub weekly for best results.
Be aware that some essential oils can cause phototoxicity.12 This means that your skin may become far more sensitive to sunlight after you have applied those essential oils.13 Examples of oils that are phototoxic include bergamot, ginger, lemon, lovage and certain types of lime essential oil. If you are making oil blends that are designed to be used on the skin, be mindful of this and use only small amounts of those oils. Avoid exposing treated skin to the sun for 4-8 hours after you have used those oils.
You can combine almost any oil that you want with olive oil carrier oil, particularly for topical applications. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Safety and Precautions
Olive oil is a carrier oil, and this means that you can use it to dilute other essential oils before you apply them to your skin. Carrier oils are a must-use. While there are some essential oils that can be applied directly to your skin: including peppermint, spearmint, and tea tree oil; most are not safe for neat application.
Diluting essential oils helps to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction and it also helps to make sure that the body absorbs the oil properly. Essential oils are volatile, and they will evaporate very quickly when exposed to the air. A proper dilution with olive oil will prevent the oil from evaporating and will help it to be better absorbed through the skin. Some essential oils are safe to take orally, but should still be diluted. Before you take an oil orally, though, it is important that you consult a qualified essential oils/aromatherapy specialist, because some oils are not safe to ingest.
Skin Allergy Checks
Olive oil is well tolerated by most people which makes it a good option for those who are allergic to tree nuts. You should still perform a skin test before using olive oil as a carrier oil. To carry out a patch test:
- Dab a small amount of the carrier oil to the inside of your forearm.
- Cover the area with a bandage, loosely.
- Leave the bandage in place for 24 hours.
If you notice that irritation occurs, then rinse off the oil thoroughly, and do not use that oil in the future.
In general, for adults, you should be looking at dilutions ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent, in general. The dilution you choose will depend upon the oils that you want to use. If you are very ill or immunocompromised then you might want to use a weaker dilution. Read the labels of every oil that you plan to include in your blend, and choose carefully. If you are not sure about dilutions, then choose the weaker option at first and gradually increase the concentration if you feel that you are not getting the desired results.
- A 2.5 percent dilution is equivalent to 15 drops of essential oil for every 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
- A 3 percent dilution equates to 20 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
- A 5 percent dilution is roughly 30 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of the carrier oil
- A 10 percent dilution is roughly 60 drops of essential oil to 6 teaspoons of carrier oil
If you are making a dilution for use on a child, then you should aim for 0.5%, or 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per 6 teaspoons of carrier oil.
Store your carrier oil, and your dilutions, in a cool, dark place that has a consistent temperature. A refrigerator is a good option but if you cannot use a refrigerator then as long as the temperature in your larder/pantry/cupboard is relatively stable you should be OK. Warmth, direct sunlight and changing temperatures can make oil go rancid. A dark glass bottle will help to slow any oxidation.
Olive oil allergies are fairly rare. The fruit itself is more likely to create an allergic reaction than the oil because olive oil contains fewer proteins than the fruit does. Some people are allergic to olive oil, but any reaction is usually mild. Some people who have eczema can experience contact allergies to olive oil, but researchers are unclear what compounds cause the reaction and why.14
Safety With Massages
Most people can tolerate massages quite well but there are some people who need to be careful with them. If you have broken skin, muscle injuries or bone injuries then you should advise your massage therapist of this. If you are getting a massage done at home, then you should be using that massage only as a ‘relaxation treatment’. Massage and essential oils are generally safe if used properly, but there are some risks associated with exotic massage types when they are performed by people who are poorly trained.15 If you want something more than a relaxing back rub, then it is well worth investing in a treatment from a properly qualified therapist who understands how the massage is supposed to work, and the risks.
Carrier oils are a requirement if you want to use most essential oils on your skin, safely. They are a good way of diluting other essential oils and they have their own benefits too. Olive oil is a safe, versatile and well-tolerated oil that feels great on your skin and that combines well with most stronger-scented essential oils.
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