REINOL and olive oil Introduction


Olive oil is the best known and most commonly used vegetal lipid in the food and diet industries due to its extraordinary nutritional and salutary properties. It has also been successfully used in therapeutical and dermatological applications Olive phytocomplexes are known for their extraordinary eudermic properties (emollient, lenitive, sebum restructuring, photo protective, anti radical etc.), but olive oil is not commonly used in cosmetic preparations. In this industry, the interest for application of olive products is more oriented towards derivatives of recent introduction to the market such as the unsaponifiable part and other elaborations REINOL produces a series of olive oil derivatives for use in the production of quality cosmetic products.


The history of the olive

The origin of the olive tree is lost in the dawn of time. Most definitely, the olive is one of the most antiquely cultivated fruit trees of the old world and its importance for ancient Mediterranean civilization is apparent in all the classic history books. The first signs of olive cultivation and the production of oil extracted from its fruit can be found in the 4th millennium B.C. The geographical area involved is that of the coasts and islands of the eastern Mediterranean, even though it is believed that the first varieties of cultivated trees were to be found in the mountainous terrain south of Caucaso (today known as eastern Turkey and Lebanon and the surrounding area). The olive is mentioned in Genesis (8,11): at the end of the deluge, the dove sent from the ark returns with an olive twig in its beak for Noah (a sign of peace).

In antique civilizations, the olive was considered a sacred tree, an object of worship. A garland of olive branches was given as a prize to the winners at the Olympic games. The plant was sacred in  Athens and could not be cut down or burnt; it is told that during the ransacking of  Athens, the Spartans didn’t touch the olives for fear of divine vengeance. Continuing with the sacred scriptures, the olive represents justice (Psalm, 54,10), the chosen people (Jeremiah, 11,16), and wisdom (Ecclesiastes, 24,19). For the Hebrews, the olive was one of the precious gifts from God, and a symbol of alliance. Again in the Sacred Bible (Exodus, 30,31), the sacred ointment (the Lord’s Anointed) is described as being a composition of olive oil and perfumed substances. The sacred oil, symbol of mercy, is today still used by the Christian and Hebrew worlds in religious ceremonies of sacramental imposition (baptism, confirmation, Extreme Unction).

It is like remembering the ground that Jesus trod to triumphantly enter Jerusalem covered in olive branches, or the olive garden of Gethsemane where Jesus sadly retreated to prepare for his ordeal. The olive then spread towards Greece and the island of Aegean. It is told that in the palace of Crosso in Crete (Minoan civilization, III-II millennium B.C.), there was an impressive storehouse of oil jars (pitchers) full of olive oil in far greater quantities than needed to satisfy the residents of the island. This is probably the proof that in Crete, not only was oil produced but it was also widely traded.

In Egyptian archaeological findings there are traces of treatment products and cosmetics, which have been discovered to contain olive oil. A further expansion of the knowledge of olive oil towards the west occurred at the beginning of the first millennium B.C. until it arrived in Tunisia, Sicily and Calabria towards the IV century B.C. Much later – in these times movements occurred much more slowly – it arrived in Rome, via Etruria. Fenian merchants, followed by Greek merchants, spread the species into other Mediterranean areas, as far as Spain, southern France and North Africa.


The chemistry of olive oil

There are Greek and Roman historical findings regarding the knowledge of the treatment properties of this oil. Galeno, a famous Greek doctor (130-200 D.C.) and Plinio il Vecchio, a famous latin historian and naturalist (originally from Como: 23-79 D.C.) offered recipes based on olive oil.

In antique Greece and Rome, olive oil was used as a remedy for friction, massage and as a vehicle for many medications.

The Imperator Augusto used it to massage his muscles and to keep his body in optimum shape. In the Arab world, and later also in the Mediterranean, the leaves of the olive were discovered to have astringent, tonic and febrifugal properties.



The olive (Olea europaea sativa) belongs to the Oleaceous family; it is a plant that has a perennial evergreen foliage and grows very slowly to become in some cases very large. It is a long living plant (some existing examples are said to be hundreds of years old).

On an irregular shaped, contorted trunk with knotted branches grow long, lanceolate leaves of a characteristic grey-green colour, darker on top and pale, almost white, underneath. The fruit (olive) is a fleshy green drupe of between about 10 and 35 mm in length, green in colour but turning darker with maturity at the beginning of the winter season, becoming purple or even intense black.

Percentage composition (average) in fatty acids of typical Italian olive oil

C18:1                    Oleic                   65 - 80

C16:0                    Palmitic               5 - 12

C18:2                    Linoleic                4 - 7

C18:0                    Stearic              1,5 - 3,5

C16:1                    Palmitoleic        0,5 - 1

C18:3                    Linolenic            0,3 - 1

C20:0                    Arachidic           0,2 - 0,6

C20:1                    Gadoleic            0,1 - 0,5

C22:0                    Behenic             0,1 – 0,2

C22:1                    Erucic                0,1 - 0,2

The oil is obtained from the mature fruit without grinding or successive squeezing. A good healthy and correctly mature fruit can contain up to 50-60% of oil, whose colour can vary from intense yellow to green; it has a pleasant odour. It is liquid at temperatures in access of 0°C. The olive is a Mediterranean plant, and as such suffers in extremely cold conditions, especially in late springtime; it can survive cold temperatures, even as low as –10/-12°C, if they occur gradually and in full wintertime.

From a chemical point of view, olive oil is a lipid that mainly contains triglycerides, oleic acid (monounsaturated) by majority and many other acids, some saturates (palmitic, stearic, arachidic), and other monounsaturated (palmitoleic, gadoleic, erucic), as well as a fraction of polyunsaturated (linoleic and linolenic).

The small fraction of fatty acids present in the oil are in a free form and are responsible for the typical acidity of the oil.

Notwithstanding the presence of a considerable fraction of unsaturated (as can be seen in the table), olive oil has the benefit of resisting to spontaneous oxidation better than other vegetal oils (such as soya, sunflower, corn and peanut). It also resists well to thermal degradation, even when exposed to very high temperatures, as in frying for example: the smoking point for olive oil is much higher (210°C) than with respect to that of the previously mentioned oils (from 130 to 180°C).

This behaviour could be linked to the presence of natural antioxidant agents such as polyphenols in its composition. It appears that Italian olives contain a greater quantity of these compared to those from other Mediterranean regions. Polyphenols, with their antioxidant action, do not only lengthen the life of the oil itself, but also act as real direct antioxidants upon the organism.

This means that they are able to block the dangerous free radicals that are formed in the organism through the peroxidation of the lipids. The polyphenolic fraction of olive oil is formed of a mixture of not always well identifiable (and therefore not entirely clear) substances: tirosol and hydroxytirosol, europeina (about which we will talk in more detail), some phenolic acids (caffeic, p-hydroxybenzoic and p-hydroxyphenilacetic).

Olive oil is also characterised by its unsaponifiable fraction, which is prevalently formed of hydrocarbon amongst which the most interesting is squalene. Amongst vegetal oils olive oil is the oil that contains the largest quantity (up to 700 mg/100 g) of this precious hydrocarbon that can also be found in human sebum and is therefore extremely functional in cosmetic products thanks to its euderma eudermia. We should not forget sterols, a non glyceride constituent present in this oil in a free form or as fatty acid esters. Analytical definition has been able to determine that the main constituent of this sterolic fraction is b-sitosterol, that makes up from 70 to 90% of the total; the rest is constituted of d-5-avenasterol, campesterol, stigmasterol, clerosterol and also cholesterol (the later in minimal quantities, about 0,4% of the whole fraction).

In olive oil there is also traces of lecitin, of bitter principles (that explain its typical taste) and, very importantly, various pigments. Amongst these, we should mention carotenoid, (lutein, violaxantin, b-carotene), chlorophyll and pheofitine. Such pigments are not only responsible for the colour of the oil, but are also involved in the mechanism of its defence from auto oxidation and photo oxidation.

In conclusion with regard to the composition of this lipid, we underline that it also contains small fractions of phospholipids (immediately after production, they degrade in time) and volatile substances (hydrocarbons, aldeids, alcohols, various esters, enol derivatives).

It is evident that the composition of oils varies – sometimes considerably – from type to type and according to the origin, the season of harvest and the stage of maturity of the pressed fruit. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised if, in literature, the tables that record the percentages of the oils composition – especially those of secondary presence – show very different results (sometimes even in great disaccord) from author to author. We should also not be surprised about the mention of other numerous components not mentioned in this paper, even if found – in tiny quantities – in this lipid. An observation which we feel is worth discussing is that which explains the better behaviour of olive oil when oxidative facts occur in respect to other types of vegetal oils. The extraction and rectification processes that these oils go through cause the disappearance or the degradation of certain active functional components; on the contrary, virgin olive oil extracted exclusively with physical (mechanical) methods maintains all its special characteristics and its biochemical assets completely intact. It maintains a well balanced chemical composition that makes it more resistant to the beginning of oxidation processes caused by heat.


Olive oil and medicine

As it is not precisely in line with the theme of this paper, we feel itis not necessary to discuss the interest of this lipid in alimentary and dietetic fields, where it is considered an indispensable element of the most fundamental importance. Instead, we will briefly mention the use of this oil in the pharmaceutical field.

In internal applications it is used in the preparation of various medications intended to stimulate bile secretion and intestinal peristalsis, as a laxative. It is also included in medicines for the treatment of high blood cholesterol levels.

It would be too time consuming to mention the many applications of olive oil in extemporary popular medicine: in liniment for various uses, against dermatitis, itching and burns. Taken in spoonfuls before meals to combat gastric ulcers, during meals to fatten and beat sterility, in liver and kidney cholics, to eliminate gall stones, etc.


Olive oil and cosmetics

In the opening notes of this paper we mentioned how olive oil, even if widely appreciated for it is extraordinary nutritional qualities in alimentary and dietetic fields and also widely used in the pharmaceutical industry for its known therapeutic properties, does not enjoy the same “fame” and widespread use in the cosmetic industry. Due to its chemical-physical and functional properties olive oil would deserve to be preferred over other vegetal oils (local and exotic), which, on the contrary, are appreciated and widely used in the industry.

Sure, there are vegetal oils available on the market (above all from synthesis) that due to their organoleptic properties (stickiness, odour, feel) are preferred over olive oil as vehicles for functional ingredients in a cosmetic product. But as far as quality is concerned (lubricant power, emollient power, carrier of eudermic functional active ingredients), olive oil is definitely preferable over the majority of the most commonly used ‘cosmetic oils’ today (we shall call them as such for the sake of clarity). It is enough to think about its content of fatty acids (including unsaturated) with their emollient, restructuring and skin protection properties; or the functionality of its unsaponifiable fraction: we mentioned that this is formed of squalene, alcohols and fatty acids and sterols, which are very similar to the structure of the sebum and therefore able to restore the fatty fraction of the skins hydrolipidic film. Above all, we should not forget its richness in substances with an antioxidant function (the polyphenolic derivatives mentioned previously), whose action prevents the lipo oxidation of the cells thanks to the capture of damaging free radicals.

It is true that cosmetic lines containing this lipid are available on the market; old formulations exist (still patiently prepared by old chemists) where olive oil is used as the carrier for active ingredients (preparations containing liposoluble vitamins for example).

REINOL has studied and created some products that may be considered as the “natural offspring” of olive oil. Using pure Italian olive oil as a base, a series of cosmetic raw materials that maintain its qualitative and functional properties are created. Thanks to their functionality and proved efficacy, these products are becoming increasingly more popular with cosmetic formulators.