Olive oil vs sunflower oil

I am in love with natural vegetable oils. I have written many articles on my blog about different cosmetic oils. This time I decided to compare two familiar oils that are commonly used in cosmetics. Olive oil and sunflower oil are oils that everyone has used at least once in the kitchen. These two oils are very different from each other. I have previously written a comprehensive blog article about both oils, where the most important properties of these oils can be found.

A comparative study is a right tool for you to easily understand the properties of different oils. Keep reading to find out why it is not the same whether you use olive oil or sunflower oil on your skin.


The use of oils in cosmetics is very old tradition

Both olive oil and sunflower oil are products with a long history. We, the humans, have used oils for thousands of years both for beauty care and for food. The history of olive oil goes back thousands of years. Olives were known to be grown in Crete around 3000 years BC. The oldest olive trees are around 1600 years old.

Olive oil has been a very popular oil in cooking, in cosmetics use and also once used as lamp oil. The wood of the olive tree itself is also very valuable. The home of the olive tree can be found in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. A very small part of the world is able to produce high-quality olive oil.

Sunflower oil is a younger newcomer. It was first cultivated commercially in the 19th century in the Russian Empire. Sunflowers come from Russia, where they are still cultivated a lot.

Sunflower is an annual grass plant that needs to be replanted every year. Its seeds are very rich in fat.

The places where olives and sunflowers grow are different


Olive trees grow mainly in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. They need warm and sun to produce a lot of oil. Olives do not thrive in the shade. In the olive groves, the land is barren. The trees in the olive groves may be hundreds of years old. Olive growers claim that olives do poorly if you try to grow them far from the sea. Perhaps the sea breeze brings moisture and salt to the olives.

Sunflowers grow in slightly cooler areas than olive trees. The best places to grow sunflowers are located in Ukraine and Russia, as well as in Argentina and China, where there is plenty of sun. Other producing countries are Romania, USA and Turkey. The sunflower grows in sunny fields. In favourable areas, it grows quickly and produces a good harvest. The seeds require a long, sunny summer to ripen.

Production of sunflower oil and olive oil

Olive oil is traditionally produced by pressing olive berries. No seeds are used to make the oil. Oil obtained by pressing directly from olives is called cold-pressed oil. It is dark green in colour and smells rich. The remaining mash is heated and low-quality cooking oil is made from it. Such oil is lighter in colour than cold-pressed olive oil.

Cold-pressed olive oil can also be refined, which means that all unsaponifiable matter can be cleaned from it. This kind of olive oil is light and clear in colour. At the same time, all antioxidants and other useful plant chemicals are removed from the oil.

Sunflower oil is produced either by cold pressing or hot method using solvent extraction as an aid. Regular olive oil from grocery stores is highly processed. You can recognize sunflower oil produced using the hot method by its bright colour and neutral smell. Sunflower oil produced using the hot method is also significantly more liquid than cold-pressed sunflower oil. When extracting with the hot method, the oil is heated strongly and all odour-causing substances have been removed from it. The oil is also refined, which removes all unsaponifiable substances such as vitamins and antioxidants. During heating, the sensitive fatty acids contained in sunflower oil change. Heating makes the fatty acids contained in sunflower oil better preserved, so the oil can be stored at room temperature.

Cold-pressed sunflower oil is a valued cosmetic raw material

Some of the sunflower oil is cold-pressed. Cold pressing is not a very popular method of producing sunflower oil. Cold-pressed sunflower oil does not be preserved very well because it contains a lot of sensitive fatty acids.

Cold-pressed sunflower oil is well known for its golden colour, higher viscosity and strong aroma. Cold-pressed sunflower oil contains all the vitamins and antioxidants. Cold-pressed sunflower oil survives less well than the refined version. It must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity. Cold-pressed sunflower oil is especially a good oil for the skin.

The composition of sunflower oil and olive oil differs significantly

Sunflower oil and olive oil are two very different oils. This can be best seen by examining the fatty acid profile of the oils. When heated, the composition of fatty acids changes. In this article, I only discuss cold-pressed oils.

Olive oil mainly contains oleic acid. In fact, oleic acid got its name from olives, as its other name is oleic acid. Olive oil contains approximately 55-83% oleic acid and 3.5-21% linoleic acid. These two fatty acids are very essential in skin care. Olive oil also contains quite a lot of palmitic acid (7.5-20%). As you can see, the fatty acid profile of olive oil varies widely.

The problem with olive oil is also that it is the most counterfeited food in the world. If you buy a bottle of olive oil at the store, you can never be sure what it actually contains. Even big and famous companies’ do fake olive oil by mixing it with cheaper oil qualities. This is understandable, because olives are only cultivated in a small area in the world, on the shores of the Mediterranean. It is simply impossible to fill all the stores in the world with such a small annual production of cold-pressed olive oil.

The main fatty acid in sunflower oil is linoleic acid, 60-80%. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated, long-chain omega-6 fatty acid. It is the so-called an essential fatty acid because the body cannot produce it itself. Linoleic acid is especially needed for the skin and as a building material for cells. In addition, sunflower oil contains small amounts of oleic acid and palmitic acid.

Today, linoleic acid is obtained from the nutrition way too much, so it has caused health problems for people. That is why the food industry has refined sunflower oil, which is especially rich in oleic acid. Such sunflower oil can contain as much oleic acid as olive oil, even more than 80%. However, in this article I will only compare traditional, high-linoleic sunflower oil with olive oil.

The effect of olive oil and sunflower oil on the skin

Since these two oils are very different, their effect on the skin is different. The linoleic acid contained in sunflower oil is a very important fatty acid for the skin. The skin creates ceramides using linoleic acid. Ceramides have a very important function for the skin. They protect the skin from drying out and damage.

The oleic acid contained in olive oil is not the skin’s primary fatty acid. The skin does use oleic acid to its advantage if linoleic acid is not available. Over time, however, olive oil clogs the pores because the skin cannot fully utilize it.

Olive oil and sunflower oil have been studied in eczema skin. 6 drops of sunflower oil were applied to the skin twice a day for 5 weeks. The second group was given 6 drops of olive oil twice a day for five weeks. People who received olive oil suffered from worsening of the rash and burning. People who received sunflower oil did not suffer from redness, burning or other problems. Instead, their skin improved slightly.

Olive oil was found in the study to damage the stratum corneum of the skin and cause more skin problems. the study concluded that natural oils should be studied more closely. In this way, the best possible oils for skin care could be determined. If you want to read the study yourself, you can find it here

My own experiences with sunflower oil and olive oil fully match the results of that study

Sunflower oil is an ingredient I usually recommend. High in linoleic acid, sunflower oil is full of good fatty acids. Its father, cold-pressed sunflower oil, contains a huge number of phytochemicals such as high levels of vitamin E, Phyto steroids, phospholipids and phytic acids.

Olive oil has a very long tradition also as an oil for cosmetics. The ancient people who have used it must have had good experiences with olive oil. They wouldn’t have used it otherwise. Olive oil certainly has its advantages. I often use olive oil in hair care products and other rinse-off products. Olive oil can also be used in body care products together with other oils.

Sunflower oil has been considered a very modest and cheap oil. It seems to be the underrated Cinderella of cosmetic oils, which reveals the most wonderful ingredient.

Sunflower oil has not really been appreciated. Few people buy sunflower oil to make cosmetics. Almond oil or apricot oil are considered much finer oils. However, few oils are as beneficial for the skin as sunflower oil. When I started writing this blog in 2017, I wrote my first article about sunflower oil. Since then, I have been introduced to hundreds of new oils and vegetable butters. I haven’t changed my mind. I still think that sunflower oil is one of the best oils for cosmetics.

Also read my article on sunflower oil

What is your favorite oil?

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