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Olive Oil As Medicine: Aging Gracefully and the Case for Oil-Based Skincare

By Cheri Neal

I consider Olive Oil to be a medicine in itself, which is why it is the star of my medicinal herb kitchen.  It’s what I use almost exclusively to make medicinal herb extractions, both for internal and topical use, which then go on to become salves, creams and balms. Being the main ingredient in my best-selling facial oil–Ritual Beauty Oil, olive oil is the most important ingredient in my Apothecary! The last decade of medicine making, cooking and skincare formulation, has led me on a search to find the holy grail of Olive Oil…

Being a self-proclaimed olive oil nerd, I set out to source the best local olive oil I could for my both my Ritual Beauty Oil and medicinal extracts.  Purchasing from a local producer was important to me, and aligned with my overall ethos in herbalism. I searched high and low and found a local producer with the best olive oil I have tasted since living in Greece in 2013. Their oil is made from Mission Olives, grown in a grove which is over 100 years old.  Hand-tended, sun-powered and exclusively rain-watered, their olives produce a rich and peppery oil with a polyphenol count of over 600!  The unusually high polyphenol count would mean that my Beauty Oil would have even more anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities than before, and a longer shelf life to boot.  My Ritual Beauty Oil went from simply cleansing and moisturizing people’s skin, to HEALING it.  I started getting so much positive feedback from people who were finding my oil that I knew I had stumbled upon something really special.

I wont bore you with the myriad studies, which suggest that a diet high in this kind of olive oil can protect against imbalances such as heart disease, type-two diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer (is that all?)… Instead, I will bore you with Polyphenols.

So, what are Polyphenols?…

Polyphenols are organic compounds, found primarily in plants, which have been linked not only to the prevention of the disease states listed above, but to longevity in general. The high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in these plant compounds have been found to improve cognitive functioning and reduce the risk of cognitive decline, as well as to help bolster the immune system, protecting against chronic disease when taken internally.

The great news is that a bunch of my favorite foods are high in polyphenols- apples, coffee, cacao, berries, and many herbs and spices do. Oh! and of course, Olive Oil!

Why all oils are not created equal…

While I do love most oils– fruit oils, nut oils, plant oil, essential oils… all of which are used extensively in skincare, all oils are not created equal.  Highly processed seed oils have become ubiquitous in our culture, as they have made their way into our food system as well as into a lot of natural skincare.  On their own, used topically, and in small quantities, these oils don’t seem to have an immediate negative effect on the body.  Unfortunately, they exist in almost every non-whole food and skincare product on the market,  which makes those small, insignificant amounts add up, if you’re not paying attention.  Studies on chemically processed seed oils in particular, show that they hold the pre-cursors for the inflammatory response in our bodies, so, while not being acutely inflammatory (some are even touted to be ANTI-inflammatory), they are actually setting the stage for chronic inflammatory diseases, and then feed them. While there is no scientific consensus on the inflammatory properties or negative health effects of seed oils, they are so highly processed, that they cease to have the same “living” quality that the less processed oils like coconut or olive do.  The fact that a lot of these oils are processed with toxic Hexane, contain synthetic preservatives, and go rancid very quickly is reason enough for me to avoid them in my daily life as well as my skincare formulations.

The case for an Oil Based Skincare routine…

People have been using natural oils on their skin since, well, forever… They are naturally cleansing, nourishing, protective and moisturizing.  People and oils go hand in hand, as we have been in relationship with plants and animals for millennia. Today, we have moved so far from our roots, from our connection to the earth and the beings around us, that now we, as a culture are confused.  We are inundated with overly processed, nutrient deficient foods, toxic environments, and harsh chemicals and “cleansers”. We are being sold poison in the form of food-like substances, as well as in our body care products. Would our foremothers even recognize some of the stuff we put in and on our bodies?  Our whole collective being seems to be out of balance with the natural order of things.  Our skin is simply a reflection of this.  Chemical skincare strips the outer barrier of the naturally protective skin microbiome. And with “anti-aging” being the main objective of modern skincare, it’s not exactly clear exactly how one is supposed to age gracefully and in accordance with nature.

My philosophy is that aging is a privilege.  And with skincare–the simpler, the better.  Oil, plants, water—let’s not over complicate things!   My mission at Officinalis Skincare is to bring the nature’s simplicity as well as the potency of plants to your life, and skincare routine.  No, my products wont magically erase the lines of wisdom around your eyes, or stop the natural progression of aging.  And I wouldn’t want them to. They will, however, cleanse, heal, protect and feed your largest organ.

My question to myself is (and I pose the same to you, dear reader), how do I want to feed my body, and treat my skin as the process of aging inevitably unfolds? And what might my grandmother’s grandmother say about my choices?  

Ritual Beauty Oil

Ritual Beauty Oil by Officinalis is a rich, organic complexion oil designed with one foundational purpose – to support the healing of your skin. This penetrative, yet light-feeling oil can be used as a moisturizer, oil cleanser, or simply as a midday pick-me-up.  It is the perfect oil for facial cupping, and gua sha. Using one of the most polyphenol rich Olive Oils in North America – grown in Northern California – and a blend of thoughtfully selected active botanicals, this oil soothes and reduces inflammation, while delivering a high dose of antioxidants to the skin.  Over two decades of hand-crafted, small-batch production, have resulted in a pure, organic oil luxurious enough for the most pampered skin, yet versatile enough for your everyday skincare Ritual.

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