An olive harvest: Oil for skin care

Handmade soap with olive oil


7. Sunday

The end  is in sight.  Today the olive grove owner’s sister has offered us her help. I suppose she knew that towards the end of the crop  every helping hand is welcome to keep the morale high and people in good mood. She has passed the pension age and seems the right person to ask what, besides cooking, one can do with olive oil. 

“In earlier days, olive oil served for all sorts of things. People treated furniture and floors, even fabrics with it. A few drops on door or window hinges removed troublesome creaking.  In order to give them a new lustre, dull beads were carefully polished with it. It was common to rub some drops on dry lips. Slightly warmed, people appreciated the oil as a cure for chapped elbows and split finger nails.


Middle age image of a woman looking into a mirror.
Cent’erbe, Nardini Editore, Via del Salviatino1 1 50016 Fiesole (Firenze) 1996


“I remember”, rises a voice, “that my grandmother recommended olive oil as a gargle against sore throat”. In older days, olive oil was considered as an excellent remedy for inflamed skin and itching. It was even used to treat eczema. Then there was its use in the cosmetic field and as skin care”.

“That’s my field”, I hear a voice nearby. “We studied the topic last year at school. In Ancient Greece olive oil has been generously used by sportsmen as ointment. This to underline the beauty of their statuary bodies and the sculpted muscles. The “Doric ampoule” containing olive oil (together with the strigil to remove it) were essential elements of the athlete’s kit.


La vittoria di Teseo sul Minotauro Pitturare dalla cosiddetta Basilica di Ercolano (Napoli, Museo Nazionale) Anna Ferrari, Dizionario di Mitologia Greca e Latina, UTET, Torino, 2000

Olive oil was indeed appreciated to look good but most of all it had been used as skin care. In those days, in fact, soap was still unknown. Therefore people washed themselves, if I can put it in this way, with ash or a mixture of ash and boiling hot water. By the way, it was the same blend used to clean their clothes. The procedure was rather irritating for the skin and in order to counter the negative effects, the athletes
 generously rubbed the oil into the skin”.


Cent’erbe, Nardini Editore, Via del Salviatino1 1 50016 Fiesole (Firenze) 1996


Today we put the past behind and have definitely refined our approach to olive oil as skin care. Science and advertising teach us that because of its precious composition, olive oil soothes red and irritated skin. It prevents drying and flaking and fights the signs of skin and hair aging by keeping both elastic, smooth and shiny. Nowadays, in fact, we can choose among hundreds of cosmetic products containing olive oil. It’s up to us finding the perfect article suitable for our needs.



I was familiar with a mask for dry and fragile hair. Olive oil mixed with an egg yolk and lemon juice, massaged carefully  into the hair and left to act for half an hour. The result? Well, maybe the recipe was not clear to me. As a matter of fact, the mass dried on my head and became hard. A whole bottle of shampoo and loads of water were necessary to dissolve and rinse it away.  Not enough! My hair remained sticky for days. For quite a while people knew that I was coming by simply smelling the olive oil in the air…



“The mixture you concocted was everything but a mask for dry and fragile hair! The correct recipe, which by the way works very well, consists in massaging sparingly first class olive oil into dry hair, insisting particularly on the tips,  without touching the scalp. Then you must wrap a warm towel around your head. Together with the body heat this releases the beneficial properties of the oil. The mask must be left on for at least thirty minutes, one or two hours would be even better. Then wash as usual. The visible, good effect on your hair will surprise you.”




Far be it for me to doubt the good results of these methods, but experience has made me wiser. My personal one has taught me that olive oil is better on salad and vegetables than on hair. If the worst comes to the worst, after long inner struggles, I may accept to try an “exfoliating” body mask. Studying the recipe, it sounds just as stylish as the word “exfoliating”.  Before having a shower, you mix directly on the palm of your hand olive oil and icing sugar. Once the two ingredients are perfectly amalgamated massage the mass delicately into the body and then have your usual shower. This mixture is said to clean the pores thoroughly and make the skin smooth and bright. 



Another member of our group tells us that he uses olive oil before going to the seaside. He prepares a lotion by mixing olive with almond oil, which he applies onto the skin before sunbathing. If, in spite of this skin care he gets burnt, in the evening, after a shower, he massages the lotion  again into the skin. Some people swear that swallowing a tablespoon of pure, genuine olive oil before an alcoholic party helps to remain sober.  Let me put it in this way:  all these remedies do not seem too reliable but, truly,  I don’t know if they work or not.


A.E. Waite, Tarocchi, Pamela Colman-Smith, Lo Scarabeo, 2016


Somebody brings up a subject we have not yet discussed. I had  recently moved to Italy, didn’t speak the language and was far from understanding the Italians when I had the opportunity of making friends with a group of women. Many years have passed since then but I still have a pleasant recollection of these ladies. Deeply tied to customs and traditions I was not familiar with, in difficult moments or when a negative situation was dragging on these women did two things I had never heard about before. Firstly they brought the friend to a fortune-teller who would have consulted the tarot cards in order to make light on the past, present and future.  Secondly they would verify if a jealous or envious person had cast the evil eye on her.


Scena dell’ Ifigenia in Tauride di Euripide, Pittura della casa di C. Giocondo a Pompei (Napoli, Museo Nazionale) Anna Ferrari, Dizionario di Mitologia Greca e Latina, UTET, Torino, 2000


At one of these sessions, I too, was present. Capable of reading and removing an evil eye was a rather old woman who lived in the countryside. The friend in difficulty had to sit down on a  stool. The fortune-teller placed a dish containing water over her head and poured a drop of olive oil into the water. “If the drop remains intact”, they enlightened me, “the evil eye has nothing to do with the unlucky situation. If it spreads in the water, it is certain that a spell has been cast”.  The drop, fortunately, did not expand. What would have happened if it did? The old woman would have healed it by whispering secret words.


Giorgio Batini, Toscana Magica, Edizioni Polistampa, Firenze, 2007


From these ladies I have learnt that the important thing is to find ways and means to solve a problem. Nobody in the group, in fact, believed in fortune-tellers of evil eyes but somehow it was a way to increase, through suggestion, the proper capabilities to react,  contrast,  face and overcome a hard moment in life. I’m not quite sure but I had the impression that in this country you can always learn something useful on how to cope best with life. 

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