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Olives for healthy living?

Olive oil is good for the body whether it's applied to the skin or ingested through salads and other foods. It's actually been a guarantor of health and beauty since antiquity, and now more and more cosmetic companies have rediscovered its natural properties and are using it as a basis for entire lines of personal care products.
"Cleopatra and Nefertiti knew the wonderful effects of olive oil," said expert Margot Hellmiss of Munich, author of the book Healthy and Beautiful Through Olive Oil. When the "liquid gold" is used in the kitchen, its higher proportion of unsaturated fat lowers the level of LDL cholesterol in the body, helping prevent clogged arteries and heart disease.

Helps fight free radicals
In addition, the secondary plant materials and the high proportion of vitamin E in olive oil fends off so-called free radicals, which are dangerous by-products of metabolism, "thereby putting the brakes on cell ageing," said Hellmiss.

Olive oil also is good for the skin. The oil's fat composition is very similar to that of human skin, said Dieter Oberg, who represents a Munich-based organisation offering information about olive oil. Therefore, olive oil generally doesn't cause any allergic reactions.

"In addition, it is absorbed quickly, doesn't leave a greasy film behind and helps lock moisture into the skin," Hellmiss said. The result is soft, smooth skin. The higher proportion of unsaturated fat and vitamin E also work on the outside, particularly on sensitive skin. People who tend to have oily skin, however, should refrain from putting on additional oil.

More products using olive oil
The palette of products that use olive oil as a base has grown in recent years. The British chain, The Body Shop, offers a bath and shower gel and the classic olive oil soap in addition to an olive body spray, which is designed to hold moisture in the skin after a bath. Alternatively, the skin can be treated to a peel made of olive oil and rounded olive oil pits before a fragrant body butter is applied.

The Greek company Korres and the German company, Just Pure, also include olive oil pits in their peeling products. Olive Stones Natural Scrub from Korres and Just Pure's Olive Pit Herbal Peeling are two products that cleanse the face and body, leaving the skin smooth.

German cosmetic maker Sante bases most of its personal care product lines on olives. Shower gel, body lotion and shampoo strike a refreshing note through the addition of lime, ginger or grapefruit. Sante cosmetics from makeup to rouge and eye shadow also are based on olive oil and should be used to feel the effect of the olive's protective, skin-smoothing and healing oil, said company spokeswoman Silke Fleiss.

The company Biotherm in Duesseldorf also appears convinced of the power of the olive. Within five days, the facial cream Age Fitness Power 2 promises to revitalise the complexion and liven up puffy skin. There are two active ingredients responsible for these rapid results: olive water, which neutralises free radicals, and olive fruit extract, which smoothes the skin, according to Biotherm.

For a quick beauty treatment, however, it's sufficient to reach for the olive oil that's in the kitchen cupboard, assuming it holds a bottle of high quality cold pressed olive oil. Four tablespoons full of this type of olive oil warmed up slightly and mixed with sea salt can be used as a skin-tightening peel. Mixed together with lemon juice, olive oil is an ideal overnight treatment for wrinkles, and soaking hands in warm olive oil makes them supple and is good for fingernails as well.

Not everyone agrees
New olive oil products, however, have their critics. Andrea Kraut of the Professional Trade Academy for Wholesome Cosmetics in Cologne said there was nothing new about unsaturated fats working as antioxidants and about vitamin E making skin supple, and she said these benefits were not exclusive to olive oil.

"The cosmetic industry is reinventing the wheel," she said, adding that she views the trend toward olive oil-based personal care products as a marketing ploy. "Natural cosmetics are in. The Mediterranean lifestyle is in, and, thanks to cooking shows on television, olive oil is in. It's that simple."