In Love with Olives
Boost your glow with the Mediterranean diet for your skin
By Bess Hochstein
While diet trends come and go, the Mediterranean diet is consistently lauded. One reason is its high quotient of olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and powerful antioxidants. A diet high in olive oil is said to, protect against heart disease, gallstone formation and many forms of cancer; lower blood pressure; and ease ulcers and gastritis. Now a bumper crop of olive-lovers are bringing the benefits of the olive to skin- and body-care in new olive-rich salves and spa treatments.
The topical application of olives and olive oil preceded the fruit's culinary use. The olive was revered across ancient civilizations; Israelites used it for anointing oil. The Greeks considered olive trees sacred; anyone who cut one down was condemned to death. The dove indicated life on land to Noah with an olive branch, which also symbolizes peace. Healthful attributes were perhaps suggested by the longevity and heartiness of olive trees, which resist fungus and bacteria, thriving in brutally hot climates. Many civilizations used olives for curative, disinfectant, and moisturizing properties on burns, bug bites, wrinkles, stretch marks, scars, rashes, and for cosmetics, massage, and hair conditioning.
This broad range of uses is cited today by fans of Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream, a balm of olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis, and â€œdivine love.â€ CEO LordPharoah ImHotepAmonRa claims his balm's formula stems from a secret healing recipe used by the ancient Egyptians, or 'Kamitians.'
Biblical references inspired Brigitte Brown to create Brown Olive, a line of handcrafted products utilizing organic California olive oil and leaf extract, which some consider the most medicinal part of the plant. Brown uses olive butter as an alternative to shea butter, which she says can cause an allergic reaction in people with sensitive skin. "I've never heard of anybody being allergic to olive oil," she notes.
In the traditional Turkish hamam, bathers are scrubbed with a bar of pure olive oil soap. Entrepreneur Judy Nural was introduced to the hamam ritual by her Turkish husband, who took her to the baths his family has frequented for generations. The benefits were so profound that she created the Olive Skin Care line and the MicrodermaMitt to introduce authentic Turkish olive oil soap to the U.S. market and to enable Americans to replicate the hamam experience at home.
Other entrepreneurs reach back to their own roots to spread the benefits of olive oil. Mario Russo, founder of two day spa/salons in Boston, drew inspiration from the view of an olive grove outside his childhood home in Italy as well as his grandmother's use of olive oil as an all-over moisturizer and cure-all, to develop his head-to-toe line of hair- and skincare products, which began in 2000 with one shampoo.
Around that time, Chris Sicurella discovered some olive-based skincare products at a kiosk in Vancouver, Canada. "I tried them and I loved them," he recounts, so much so that he and his wife took the next seven years to develop their own olive-based line, NaturOli, which hearkens back to his own Italian heritage. Intending to use only oil, Sicurella unearthed the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of olive leaves, which are rich in polyphenols and used in curative teas and poultices. He also found that the pits are a source of squalene, which Sicurella calls the delivery system of olive's benefits; its fine molecular structure enables quick absorption into the skin. He combined these olive elements with a roster of other all-natural ingredients to launch an encyclopedic, olive-rich product line available through the highly informative NaturOli website.
Fashion designer Norma Kamali was similarly inspired by her Lebanese and Basque heritage when the tragedy of 9/11 prompted her to turn her talents toward helping people feel better. On a trip to Europe's 'Olive belt', she gathered information on how olives were still used in homemade soaps, moisturizers, masques, and liniments. This experience led her to develop The Wellness Connection, a company that specializes in olive-based body-care, fragrance, and cleaning products, as well as imported olive oils.
Olive trees thrive throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, so it's not surprising to find Tunisian olive oil in Pangea Organic's bar soap, or French olives in Durance's Provence-inspired 'Around the Olive Tree' collection. Olive-based spa treatments proliferate in olive-growing regions. The Provenal Escape at the Four Seasons in Provence, offers a full-body exfoliation using Camargue sea salts, crushed lavender buds, and local olive oil that's followed by a massage with lavender- and rosemary-infused olive oil.
The Adler Thermae Spa in Tuscany features local olives in oil baths and body wraps, ground-pit exfoliations, and olive cream massages. Mediterranean-inspired spas also tap the olive; the Alvadora Spa at the Royal Palms in Arizona offers the Mediterranean Wrapture, which includes an olive oil and ground-seed exfoliation, followed by a wrap with extracts of olive leaf, cilantro, juniper, and lavender; a scalp massage; and a final hydrating application of olive leaf and almond oil.
The California wine-growing region is also quickly becoming known for high-quality olive oil. Napa spas are also adding local olives to their menus, such as the Orchard Olive Stone and Honeydew Exfoliation at The Carneros Inn, and the two-hour Olive View at Auberge du Soleil, which begins with a full-body olive leaf exfoliation and continues with a Meyer lemon olive oil massage, a warm olive oil and lemon hair and scalp treatment, and lemon zest foot therapy. "We're nestled in an olive grove," explains Spa Director Susan O'Bryen. "We use the leaves from our trees; we crush them in a mortar and pestle and mix them in oil with sea salts. The Olive View is deeply cleansing and one of the most hydrating treatments we have. The skin really becomes vibrant afterward." For much-needed after-sun moisture or during the dry winter season, parched skin deserves an appointment for an olive oil anointment.next page >