In Milan, two important events linked to beauty and wellness took place at the fourth Olio Officina Food Festival. On Friday, January 23rd, a meeting was organized with reiki practitioner Ivana Sagramoni, and the following day there was a workshop on the ritual of hand massage, in collaboration with the oil company Premiati Oleifici Barbera and the Shiatsu Academy of Sicily. This gives us the excuse to analyse the relationship between oil and beauty in greater depth. Throughout the history of Mankind, the cosmetic properties of olive oil have always been appreciated, though its popularity had many highs and lows. However, it was only in the Eighteenth century that its use lost all favour. The launch of alcohol-based perfumes signed a moment of rupture with the past, and the use of olive oil for cosmetic purposes waned greatly, without however disappearing entirely.
Nowadays, in contrast, we live in a society that is becoming more conscious about health, so we are slowly but steadily reclaiming past traditions. In China and Japan, olive oil is considered more as a cosmetic than a nutriment. In the light of this fact, and other, unpredicted events, the dermatologic and cosmetic properties of olive oil are now being re-acknowledged.
Research has perfected the use of oil-based compounds, making them easier to apply and therefore more marketable. In ancient times, empirical knowledge and intuition were the sole factors dictating when and how olive oil should be used; nowadays however, scientific investigations have cleared all doubts about the properties of olive oil. Today’s cosmetic industry manufactures beauty products from leaves, olives and oil, and these creams and lotions possess greater properties than their predecessors. The natural compounds present in modern cosmetics are capable of strongly inhibiting the oxidative processes taking place in the fatty cells of the epidermis.
The bravest of us – or better, whoever can devote more time to body care –use pure olive oil, pouring it directly onto the skin, for more rapid results. It is just a question of habit. The precious compounds present in olive oil have a powerful photo-protective and anti-radical action; however, in order to be effective, these substances must be extracted from grade-A material.
Ancient populations were well aware of this: for this reason the olives were harvested when still green and slightly unripe. As soon as they were picked, sometime in late August, they were immediately pressed to produce that priceless oil that the Romans called omphacion. We now know that unripe olives have the highest concentration of precious compounds. It’s as if our forefathers, without having our modern equipment for chemical analyses, instinctively knew what was best. Nowadays, the cosmetic industry is striving to fully exploit the potential benefits of many of these compounds, defining new formulas and ingredients.
In ancient times, when soap did not exist, people would use oil as a detergent. They would douse themselves various times a day, and it was considered unhygienic not to bear traces of oil on one’s hair and body.
Our ancestors were methodical, and would oil every part of their body with loving care. These massages were so accurate that they left a thin layer of oil on the skin, protecting it from dust and cold. Since it is a bad heat conductor, this uniform layer insulated the body from both the cold and the rays of the sun. The fact that hardly anybody nowadays uses olive oil depends on a number of factors of a practical nature.
The complexity of the operation, and the time it required, were the cause of the great wane in its popularity; another reason that certainly contributed to this is its typical strong smell.
Life nowadays moves at a fast pace and this is why we always choose the quickest, easiest solution. However, if used excessively, detergents tend to remove the protective layer of the dermis: our habit of washing ourselves with a greater frequency than ever before can compromise the skin’s natural defence system.
It is time to do something about the increasing number of problems affecting our skin, many of which only require natural compounds to get better. Olive oil is possibly the best cure, because it is rapidly and totally absorbed by the skin, and quickly restores its lipid layer. Moreover, unlike other vegetable oils that only act as moisturizers, olive oil also possesses nourishing properties.
Luckily, the companies operating in this sector have been able to rapidly adjust to the changing trend, launching a large range of cosmetics on the market that meet all the demands of the consumers. This includes not having to use olive oil as it is, with all the practical inconveniences that would follow.
Photo credit: Armadio delle Essenze