The use of natural oils as a topical skin moisturizer has increased in popularity worldwide in recent years. Some people believe that, because the oils are natural, they pose no potential harm to the skin. While many natural oils are perfectly acceptable for consumption, some pose risks when applied to the skin.
Olive oil and sunflower seed oil in particular, have the potential to aggravate skin conditions such as atopic and contact allergic dermatitis. These should be considered unsafe for topical application, especially for newborn and preterm infants.
For adults, research suggests that applying olive oil to the skin of adults is a practice that may create or exacerbate skin conditions. In a 2013 study published in the journal Pediatric Dermatology, researchers examined the effects of topical application of olive oil and sunflower seed oil on adults.
Some participants had a history of atopic dermatitis (eczema), while others did not. At the conclusion of the study, researchers noticed a significant difference in the adults’ skin reactions to the oils.
Regardless of the patient’s original skin condition, olive oil caused a serious increase in erythema, red skin indicative of contact allergic dermatitis.
This may aggravate the dry, itchy patches of skin common to eczema. Olive oil also decreased the integrity of the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin. Sunflower seed oil did not raise either of these concerns in the study.
Just as some people have the mistaken assumption that all natural oils are safe to use, they often believe that natural oils are safer to use on neonates and infants as an alternative to synthetic lotions and creams.
The aforementioned study concluded that olive oil would be a poor choice to use on infants, due to the severity of the reactions adults encountered in the study. A 2014 study, from the journal Dermatology, claims that sunflower seed oil poses serious risks when applied topically to newborns, particularly preterm infants.
The study showed that preterm infants receiving sunflower seed oil on the skin suffered transepidermal water loss and a decrease in hydration of the stratum corneum. Researchers concluded that sunflower seed oil contributes to a retardation of skin maturation in preterm infants.
Natural oils have many useful purposes, but are not always safe for the skin. Olive oil and sunflower seed oil in particular can make skin conditions worse for both adults and infants.
I realize their is conflicting information, (as there always is) about the use of sunflower and olive oils for topical purposes including: face scrubs, make up removal and as a dry, skin treatment option. However, the studies linked within the text indicate that both of those oils pose potential risks when using them topically.
Be avid label readers and be aware of other harmful chemicals in your skin care products and toiletries such as: dyes, perfumes, fragrances, preservatives, pantothenic acid, sulfates, oats and gluten.