Does olive oil help with skin lightening? The short answer is yes and no. To understand what olive oil can and can’t do for a skin-lightening routine, we look at the basics of how skin lighteners work and what properties olive oil has.

Skin lightening is meant to lighten skin spots, patches, or overall skin tone. Skin lighteners are also called skin whiteners, skin brighteners, fading creams, and bleaching creams.

First, let’s look at what effective skin lighteners do. Skin-lightening creams typically work at the surface or in the upper layer of skin.

True skin bleachers work by one or both of these methods:

1. Reduce skin pigment

Melanin is the pigment in your skin. The more melanin you have, the darker the skin tone. It’s made by cells in the skin called melanocytes.

Skin-lightening creams stop or slow the process through which melanocytes make melanin. Others stop melanin from being sent to the upper layer of skin.

Skin lighteners are not permanent. This is because new melanocytes grow as your skin renews over time.

2. Increase skin exfoliation

Shedding older skin cells helps to lighten skin that has been tanned by the sun or damaged. The skin’s natural exfoliation slows down as we get older.

Some skin lighteners work by triggering faster skin exfoliation. This leads to more skin cell turnover, so that lighter cells show up on the skin’s surface.

Skin lighteners and sunblock

Skin lighteners may also contain sunblock to protect lightened skin from sun damage and tanning. Ingredients that block the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays include:

  • zinc oxide
  • titanium dioxide

The quality of the olive oil you use matters.

Olive oil comes from the fruit of the olive tree. The oil is pressed from olives. Not all olive oil is the same. The process used affects the amount of healthy fats and nutrients in the olive oil. It even affects the taste.

  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is cold pressed. This means it’s squeezed from whole olives without using chemicals or heat.
  • Refined olive oil is often labeled as “olive oil.” It may be processed with chemicals or made of a mixture of olive oil and other plant oils. This can give it fewer health benefits.
  • Virgin or fine olive oil may be a mixture of extra virgin and refined olive oil. It’s also often made with less-ripe olives. This type may not be available in stores.

EVOO is a preferred oil because its manufacturing process may maintain more of the olive oil’s nutritional properties, and there may be fewer chemicals or additional ingredients introduced into the oil.

Olive oil may be beneficial for the skin, both as part of your diet and as part of your skin care routine.

Skin care through diet

Research shows that eating olive oil and other foods with omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation (redness and swelling) in the body. This may help prevent or heal skin damage due to inflammation. For example, sun damage or photoaging is caused by inflammation in the skin. It leads to age spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and redness.

Olive oil in skin care products

Olive oil is used in commercial skin care and cosmetic products. Look for olive oil ingredients in skin care products, listed as:

  • hydrogenated olive oil
  • olea europaea fruit oil
  • olive acid
  • potassium olivate
  • sodium olivate

Olive oil on skin

Applying olive oil on the skin blocks about 20 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. It does this by boosting the skin’s natural sun-blocking proteins. Olive oil also contains a fat called squalene. This natural fat is the skin’s most important protective fat. Adding olive oil strengthens this natural barrier.

Olive oil contains antioxidants that help stop damage. More research is needed on the antioxidant benefits of olive oil as a food or on the skin.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has only very slight skin-lightening effects. It doesn’t reduce melanin or increase skin cell exfoliation. However, it may help block damage and pigmentation from the sun. It may also help reduce skin redness and wrinkles.

Skin products

Olive oil is used in a variety of skin care and cosmetic products. It’s found in skin creams, moisturizers, makeup, face cleansers, sun lotions, bath soaps, shampoos, and hair conditioners.

Olive oil has several skin care uses and benefits:

  • Cleansing agent. It allows water to mix with oil and dirt.
  • Emulsifying agent. It allows ingredients to mix.
  • Moisturizer. It hydrates or forms a protective barrier on skin.
  • Natural sunblock. It acts as a physical barrier to some light.

Olive oil and lemon juice exfoliation

Some people use a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice to lighten hair and skin. Lemon juice isn’t a true skin bleach, though it contains antioxidants that may help relieve skin damage that causes dark spots. The main skin-lightening mechanism is considered the citric acid in lemon juice, which helps to exfoliate skin. Use this mixture sparingly; all acids can irritate skin and cause dryness and redness.

It’s possible for citrus to cause skin reactions in some people when combined with sun exposure. Known as phytophotodermatitis, it’s also sometimes called a “margarita burn” for the close association with lime juice.

Olive oil makeup remover

Use olive oil as a natural makeup remover. Apply olive oil to a cotton pad or wash towel and gently wipe away makeup. Olive oil cleanses the skin without the use of harsher chemicals.

Olive oil moisturizer

Use olive oil as a moisturizer. Similarly to using olive oil as a makeup remover, you can use a cotton ball to apply olive oil as a moisturizer to clean, dry skin. Use a towel to blot away excess oil.

Even natural food oils can have side effects when used directly on the skin. A medical study found that applying pure olive oil on the skin of adults for four weeks caused an allergic reaction. This happened even in adults who did not have a history of skin allergies.

Creams with olive oil typically contain extracts only or balance the oil with other ingredients. They may be safer to use than pure olive oil.

Applying olive oil on the skin frequently may irritate the skin. This may happen if olive oil clogs skin pores or breaks down other natural skin oils.

Skin lightener ingredients

Traditional skin-lightening products contain one or more ingredients that are effective at bleaching the skin.

These ingredients include:

Risks All skin lighteners can irritate the skin. Use only as directed.

Skin lightener uses

Skin lighteners are found in cosmetics advertised to brighten, lighten, or even out complexion. Some are used medically to treat skin changes like:

  • freckles
  • sunspots
  • hyperpigmentation
  • melasma (pigmented patches on the skin)
  • acne scars
  • age spots
  • hormonal spots

More research is needed on the effects of olive oil used on your skin. When eaten as food, studies show that it has many benefits both inside the body and on the skin.

Add plenty of extra-virgin and virgin olive oil to your diet. This heart-healthy plant oil is best eaten cold as a salad dressing or dip. Olive oil has a lower smoking point than other oils and should not be used for cooking at high temperatures.

It’s not a true skin lightener in the cosmetic sense, but it has some mild UV protection and redness-reducing qualities. Mineral sunscreens and clothing are more effective sun blockers.

If you have skin concerns, talk to your doctor about the best skin lightener for your skin condition. A medical-grade skin lightener may give you better results than cosmetic products.