History is defined by turning points, key moments that revolutionize the world, people, cultures, and life itself. The creation of olive oil from the olive tree over 6,000 years ago, even before the existence of any written language, is one of those moments.
Hailing from the Mediterranean region, it was popularized and spread by the early Phoenician traders, who spread it to the Middle East and Africa, who, in turn, spread it to the rest of the world. So important a trading item, the Phoenicians nicknamed it el’yon, meaning “Most High”, a testament to the reverence owed to the item more valuable than gold. The word was adopted by the Greeks as eliaon, meaning “Olive Tree”, and changed to the word oleum, “Oil” or more specifically, “Olive Oil”. The English word “Oil”, is derived from this, an homage to its ancient and powerful roots.
Its properties and fame became so notorious and legendary it was mythologized by the Greeks, revered in ancient ceremonies across the world, and was used in every manner possible from cooking to cosmetics.
All this praise associated with one p roduct begs the question: Why?
Although unknown in the 8th century B.C., olive oil’s near-magical properties can be attributed to the several compounds within it. The benefits of olive oil and its specific uses for the body can be traced to each of these compounds.
The oil contains a hydrocarbon known as squalene, a substance that mimics human sebum, which the skin’s sebaceous glands produce as an emollient and skin hydrator. This mimicry is so pronounced that the most sensitive parts of the skin, such as those found under the eyes, benefit from the use of olive oil, moisturizing and revitalizing it. Furthermore, the compound’s properties are especially useful for chronically dry skin as well as persistent forms of acne on the face and beyond. The oil is so powerful that it can be used as a shaving cream and in exfoliating scrubs without the need for a moisturizer afterward.
It isn’t easily absorbed in the skin either, which is a good thing. Olive oil is a nonpolar substance so when it is applied to damp skin, where water is a polar compound, the liquids will not mix. This allows the layer of water on the skin to be effectively trapped on the skin, maximizing the moisture retained by the body. Its molecular properties are also useful in breaking down wax based substances since they rely on the same nonpolar bonds to hold themselves together. Such wax based substances include mascara and eyeliner, making olive oil a good makeup remover since it both removes makeup and nourishes the skin beneath it. This attribute is also useful for health-based purposes since it allows the oil to break down and loosen excess earwax, which if left unchecked can cause difficulty hearing and ear infections.
While the oil isn’t water soluble, of which the body is 70% comprised, it contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are fat soluble. These vitamins, in conjunction with the fatty acids that keep oil a liquid at room temperature allow it, once absorbed by the skin, to protect the liver from oxidative stress. Vitamin E is particularly good for the skin since its application to the scalp can fight and reduce dandruff. This vitamin is also useful in treating skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. And since it is fat soluble, it penetrates deeply, allowing it to be an especially potent product for healing scar tissue, including stretch marks.
Olive oil also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties due to a compound known as oleocanthal. Alone, they can soothe irritated and/or itchy skin and in conjunction with polyphenols, they can help extremely dry and/or cracked skin by restoring and renewing skin cells. Cracked heels thus, benefit immensely from using olive oil in occlusion therapy, which enables the oil to be completely forced into the skin and allows for its benefits to be fully reaped. Additionally, olive oil can improve healing in people with foot ulcers caused by type 2 diabetes. It can also be used in conjunction with other oils, such as tea tree or coconut oil as an antibacterial balm. One of their most important benefits, however, is their ability to prevent oxidation. Oxidation is a process that produces free radicals, chemicals with the power to damage cells and can contribute to cancer development. Photoaging and sun damage, which are also tied to oxidation, are prevented as well.
As for olive oil’s benefits for the hair, they largely stem from the aforementioned compounds as well as oleuropein, which promotes hair growth. The oil has the same effect on eyelashes as conditioner does on hair, strengthening and protecting the hair shaft. Moreover, olive oil’s ability to penetrate the hair reduces the amount of water the hair can absorb, which reduces the amount of swelling the hair shaft can undergo. This is opposite the effect on the skin and is beneficial since the less hair swells, the less it will shrink, reducing the stress undertaken by the hair shaft. This stress reduction reduces damage to hair as a whole that presents in the form of split ends and a deviation from one’s natural hair type. On top of all these benefits, its hydrating properties smoothen hair, thus decreasing the friction between hair and its surroundings which, in turn, detangles hair and helps tone down frizziness.
Keeping these innumerable benefits in mind, Afia’s olive oil soaps should be at the top of everyone’s shopping lists. Carefully handcrafted with no regard to mass production, Afia’s products are ones designed specifically for your needs. From the olive orchards in Tripoli, Lebanon, soapmakers combine the highest quality extra virgin olive oil with centuries of experience. We choose to use extra virgin olive oil because it contains the highest concentration of the benefits of olive oil, with no additives or preservatives that may detract from its excellence or harm sensitive skin. The result is a soap that exceeds all expectations in terms of quality, effectiveness, and simplicity.