Castor oil is one of those home remedies that’s been around for centuries.
Whether you took it by the spoonful as a child for sickness, experimented with castor oil packs for detoxification, or have used it in your beauty products its use has stood the test of time.
And, like many “old fashioned” healing trends, castor oil is making a comeback.
In today’s article, we’ll look at the health benefits of castor oil, how to use it safely, and the latest scientific research on which of those time-honored castor oil uses really work.
What is Castor Oil and Where Does it Comes from?
Castor oil is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops1, and comes from the seeds of the tropical Ricinus communis plant.
Because of its origins, it’s been used as a medicinal across India, Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean for centuries.
Castor oil is unique because of its fatty acid composition which consists of about 90% ricinoleic acid.
Ricinoleic acid is the medicinal component that makes castor oil so effective for a variety of health and beauty concerns.
Castor Oil’s Traditional Uses
While castor oil is best-known in the West as a laxative (those of us over 40 were most likely subjected to the awful tasting stuff by our grandmothers), in the East it’s been used for a variety of ailments, including:
- To boost immunity
- For skin rashes
- Eye irritations
- Liver disease/toxicity
- Labor induction
- As a hair treatment
- Fungal issues
- Aches and pains
- Soothe sunburn
- Arthritic conditions
- Topically to soothe colicky babies
- Digestive ailments
- Bladder Infections
- Gynecological problems
- Increasing milk supply in nursing mothers
Though castor oil has a rich history of safety and effective medicinal use, to date there are few modern scientific studies to explain its impressive track-record (though that may change as its popularity continues to grow).
Let’s take a look at where castor oil stands through the lens of modern medicine.
Castor Oil Meets Modern Medicine
When we look at the research behind castor oil’s health benefits, it’s easy to see why its traditional uses were so vast.
While the body of studies is somewhat slim, the findings indicate a wide range of potential medicinal actions.
First off, the ricinoleic acid in castor oil has shown impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Which explains why it has a beneficial effect on skin conditions like acne and psoriasis, and perhaps why it was used to treat internal inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, and bladder infections.
In fact, a 2009 study showed castor oil was effective in relieving arthritic symptoms of the knee 2.
Second, castor oil has been shown to have anti-microbial properties3. Which is why it is so popular in modern cosmetic and beauty products, and for topical relief of acute and chronic skin conditions.
Third, research has proven castor oil, specifically castor oil packs (which we’ll discuss below) have immune-supportive properties4. Which sure explains the die-hard popularity of this old, traditional healing method.
Immune-wise, there is also some evidence that castor oil has a positive effect on our lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is one of the largest systems in our body responsible for carrying out waste and keeping pathogens and toxins at bay. It’s often described as the “body’s waste-management department”, and plays many roles within the immune system.
Animal and human studies reported reported in the book: “The Oil That Heals” by Dr. William McGarey (a follower of the late medical intuitive and “father of holistic medicine” Edgar Cayce) showed subjects who used castor oil packs (cloth soaked in castor oil placed over the liver with heat) experienced a significant boost in disease-fighting lymphocytes, compared to those using a placebo pack5.
Fourth, a rather large body of anecdotal evidence, and a small bit of scientific evidence, suggest castor oil may be effective in regrowing hair when applied to the scalp.
This phenomenon may be due to either its effectiveness in inhibiting prostaglandin PGD26 which can cause hair loss, its antimicrobial effects (as noted above) or its positive impacts on lymphatic flow which affects circulation.
More research is needed to confirm this, but just do a Google search and you’ll see thousands of testimonials from people who have regrown thicker hair using castor oil.
We’ll cover this in more depth coming up in the beauty section.
Finally, castor oil has shown promise as a wound-healer. A study conducted in a Peru Hospital confirmed applying castor oil to the dressings of wound patients produced impressive enough results for the facility to continue its use as their “treatment of choice” 7.
How to Use Castor Oil Safely for Detoxification and Healing
While castor oil has an excellent track-record of safety, the main drawbacks or dangers come from improper use and can include:
- Overdoing it internally, which can cause dehydration due to its laxative effect.
- Using it to induce labor, which medical experts no longer recommend as viable as castor oil can result in miscarriage.
- And using an inferior quality castor oil, which could include harmful toxins and pesticides.
Time tested safe methods of castor oil use include:
- Occasional internal use as a laxative—appropriate dosage depends upon your age, weight and current state of health, so check with your doctor prior to use.
- Topical use as a castor oil pack for lymphatic support.
- Topical use to relieve aches, pains and sunburn.
- Use on skin and hair.
Castor Oil for Hair, Skin and Beauty
Because of its antimicrobial properties and thick, rich consistency, castor oil can be a blessing for those suffering from skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, dry skin, and sunburn.
Apply a small amount to your face or body, leave on 20 minutes or overnight, and rinse off. Keep in mind, castor oil is incredibly thick so you will want to use a mild soap and warm water to remove it.
As with any skin care product, be sure to do a patch test to check for a reaction (even all-natural products can irritate existing skin conditions).
As mentioned above, castor oil has shown promise as a natural hair thickener. While there are lots of DIY recipes out there, the easiest way to use it is to massage 1-3 tablespoons into your scalp and leave it on 30 minutes or overnight.
Proponents of castor oil hair treatments swear you’ll see results in a few weeks if used daily, some people have even had success using it to lengthen eye lashes.
It’s also wonderful for adding shine and moisture to your hair.
Castor oil can be found in numerous natural beauty products such as lip balm, shampoo, facial moisturizers and body lotions.
Some people have even used it successfully to treat toe nail fungus and dandruff.
How to Choose a Quality Castor Oil
For best results, look for a high-quality, cold-pressed organic castor oil at your local natural foods or health food store.
Cold-pressed castor oil is especially important if you take castor oil internally, as other extraction methods may use toxic solvents to extract the oil.
Typically when a folk remedy has stood the test of time, like castor oil, there’s something to its traditional benefits.
I hope modern science will continue to study the complex healing properties castor oil and ricinoleic acid. In the meantime, we can continue to reap its health and beauty benefits like generations before us.
Enjoy in good health,
- Kennedy DA, Keaton D. Evidence for the Topical Application of Castor Oil. Int J Nat Med. 2012;5(1).