20 Oct

Beauty secret is out of the olive oil bottle

Olive oil is turning up in a variety of beauty products. A team of testers wanted to know if it was better as an additive or alone.

Ancient Hebrews used olive oil to light their menorahs. Athenians valued it more than water. The Catholic Church uses it in its sacraments.

And you thought it was just for dipping your focaccia into.

Olives and their related products (oil, pulp, leaf extract) have been used as skin treatments for more than 4,000 years. Talk about a classic — and one that’s making a comeback.

Debra Brammer, a naturopathic doctor who teaches botanical medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., said olive oil’s benefits as a topical agent include “making the skin look softer and feel more pliable.”

Could any beauty product beat the olive’s own potent, raw power? We were intrigued. Four colleagues and I volunteered to test nonedible cosmetic products derived from olive oil against the regular table variety to see how the beauty products measured up.

Oliviers & Co. Organic Liquid Hand Soap ($15) and Hand Cream ($21)

I have chronically dry hands, and I’ve experimented with all kinds of moisturizers with varying degrees of success, including olive oil — which feels as if it’s moisturizing, but it makes me feel as if I should be sitting on top of a slice of mozzarella with tomato.

Olive oil is great for cooking, but for hydrating hands, not so much. The hand cream comes on too strong, leaving a white, globby mess that takes awhile to absorb. And once it does, it leaves a sticky film and a slightly pungent odor.

The soap, on the other hand, was moisturizing in an inoffensive way. It had a light olive oil scent, just enough for a pleasant lingering fragrance after rinsing it off.

Verdict: Partial endorsement, beauty product.

The Body Shop Olive Body Scrub ($16.50)

Call me a body-scrub snob, but as a frequent user of homemade versions, I’m a little particular. I like the scrub to have dual purpose: exfoliating and moisturizing.

The Olive Body Scrub (above) did do some exfoliating, so my skin felt kind of soft once I got out of the shower, but I found the product too creamy and it took too much effort to rinse it off.

I had better results with a homemade scrub I made with regular brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. The do-it-yourself scrub does a much better job of exfoliating, plus it left my skin feeling silky smooth and so moisturized that I didn’t need to use lotion.

Verdict: Olive oil.

Uspa Hydration Therapy with Olive Leaf Extract ($32) and Lavender Hand and Body Cream with Olive Leaf Extract ($25)

My first olives-as-skin-care experience was at childhood bath time. No toys and bubbles for me. Growing up in Tehran, I was the charge of a burly maid named Soghrah. At least thrice weekly, she would toss me into the tub and scrub me from head to toe and back up with olive soap and a loofah until I glowed red. So I have avoided non-ingestible olive products all of my adult life, until this little test.

Finding olive leaf extract that’s meant for external use was harder than I thought, but I found some diluted in castor oil. After a week of application it didn’t seem to do much but moisturize my hands and grease up my face.

The Uspa hand cream, however, softened my hands, and the Hydration Therapy calmed and evened out my hot, irritated epidermis. The stuff soaked right in without a hint of greasiness.

Verdict: Beauty product.

Kiehl’s Olive Fruit Oil Nourishing Shampoo ($18), Conditioner ($19) And Deeply Reparative Hair Pak ($25)

Most products meant for African-American hair don’t work on my ‘fro, but, then again, neither do most of the solutions for the rest of the world, either.

That includes olive oil. I experimented with extra virgin olive oil, slightly heated, but it was hard to wash out and left a slick residue on my hair and in my tub. My hair’s texture improved slightly when I used about a tablespoon as a leave-in, but it only felt nice when it was still damp.

Thus, I had low expectations for the Kiehl’s products. But they surprised me. The shampoo cleaned my hair without drying it and it actually felt smooth after I rinsed it, which is a rarity. The intensive conditioning pack was wonderful; it works in very little time and left me with a head of soft, defined curls, which is tough to do. Less impressive was the daily conditioner, which was too light for my hair and gave me about the same results as I would have gotten by simply washing it. However, it was great as a leave-in after I towel-dried my hair, and after I used the pack.

Verdict: Beauty product.

L’Occitane Olive Water Face Toner ($20)

As a Hispanic woman, I always thought I had oily skin that needed correction. So when I was asked to try swabbing olive oil on my skin, I thought, “I’ll end up looking like a grease slick.”

And I was wrong. The olive oil made my skin feel supple and did not produce an oily sheen. The toner, with its first ingredient being water (followed by olive fruit extract), also has such things as fragrance and hydrogenated castor oil and all sorts of things I can’t pronounce, which made me wonder what it was that made my skin feel prickly.

The toner promised it would cleanse and moisturize the skin, and that the olive water was rich in anti-free-radical agents. But I thought, “Skip the packaging, go straight to the olive oil.”

Verdict: Olive oil.
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