It used to be immensely expensive and only the rich could afford it, but with the spread of agriculture around the Mediterranean, olive groves proliferated, and it became a basic food for everyone in the region.
At first, olives were crushed between heavy stones to release the oil.
This method of oil extraction is still used today.
The kind of oil it yields is called "extra virgin".
Modern processing techniques use heat and chemicals to get more oil from the olives, but the quality of the oil is significantly inferior to the extra virgin grade.
For instance, polyphenols (those are the chemicals most responsible for the oil's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects) are five times more plentiful in extra virgin oil than they are in inferior grades.
Polyphenols are believed to improve the elasticity of blood vessels by reducing inflammation; they also scavenge free radicals, and may be responsible for the lower risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer found among people who eat the Mediterranean diet.
Scientists think that the high consumption of this oil may be why skin cancer rates are relatively low among people living around the Mediterranean, even though they are exposed to a lot of intense solar radiation.
When rubbed onto the skin, it mixes easily with the natural oils our skin produces to maintain its health; it boosts the skin's natural moisture barrier.
Plus, its polyphenols are small enough to be able to penetrate to deeper layers of the skin where they reduce oxidative stress and slow the aging processes caused by exposure to sunlight and normal environmental challenges.
There is also evidence that, applied topically, it can protect against skin cancers.
Olive oil delivers significant health benefits to the whole body, including the skin.
We are fortunate it has become so widely available.
All that is needed to enjoy its internal health benefits is a regular 2 tablespoons of extra virgin oil every day, ideally uncooked.
For the skin-specific, anti-aging benefits of olive oil, an organic moisturizer with plenty of extra virgin oil in it is a good choice.
Whether you eat it, or put it onto your skin, olive oil is best when it is organically produced; and extra virgin grade is vastly superior to the other grades that are commercially available.