Ask your Doctors: Does Olive Oil Heal Skin Wounds?

Since ancient times, olive oil was used to heal skin and as a cosmetic. It was used by the ancient Egyptians as an anti-wrinkle remedy. The Romans applied it after bathing to moisturize their skin. Olive oil continues to be widely used across many countries today for multiple skin conditions. Let's take a look at some of the facts.

Its composition of fatty acids, primarily oleic, but also palmitic, linoleic, and linoleic, may provide the purported health benefits associated with olive oil. Each of the fatty oils has been shown to possess both antifungal and antibacterial properties. The monounsaturated fat oleic acid can penetrate the skin’s top layers and permeate the cell walls, suggesting that it may be a moisturizer. Although some evidence may support this, it is important to note that the epidermis has actually seen oleic acids increase water loss, which contradicts the idea that it helps lock in skin moisture.

In a 2013 study published in the journal Pediatric Dermatology, researchers studied volunteers who applied six drops of olive oil to their forearm twice daily for 5 weeks. The results showed that olive oil treated skin not only lost water but also suffered a decrease in thickness and integrity. Some people even experienced an allergic reaction. Researchers speculate that the olive oil's destruction of skin could lead to allergen penetration and an increase in inflammation.

Olive oil is sometimes used to reduce stretch marks caused by pregnancy. It is not clear if this works. In a 2012 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 50 women who were 18 to 20 weeks pregnant applied olive oil twice daily to their abdominal skin, massaging it in gently each time, keeping this practice up until they had delivered their baby. The 50 control women did not apply any oil to their abdomen skin. While there were some stretch marks that appeared to be less severe in people who used olive oils topically, the researchers didn't find any difference between those who did and those who didn’t.

Olive oil's potential in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers is one area where it may be useful. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders showed a significant improvement of healing and shrinking of ulcers with use of olive oil among people with grade 1 or grade 2 diabetic ulcers (the least serious of the grades, which progress to grade 5). After 4 weeks, 73.3 per cent of patients who received olive oil over their ulcers healed completely. This compares to 13.3 per cent who did not. It is possible that olive oil can dry out the lesion and this may also be due to its ability to drain water from skin.

As for other skin conditions, some case reports have suggested that olive oil may reduce acne and symptoms of impetigo, but no controlled studies have been done.

Olive oil isn't a good choice for topical use. It can also cause irritation to the skin so it shouldn't be used as a moisturizer. However, olive oil is able to penetrate deeply into the skin and could prove useful when combined with other agents. The potential for healing skin injuries in the legs or feet with olive oil needs to be further studied.