What Can Castor Oil Do for You?

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

You can skip this video in  seconds
Skip Ad

Visit the Mercola Video Library

Story at-a-glance -

  • Castor oil has been used for millennia to treat medical conditions, most notably digestive issues such as constipation, and is a popular ingredient in cosmetics
  • Well-known for having a distinctively unpleasant taste, castor oil is an unsaturated omega-9 fat derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant
  • While most of the evidence for its effectiveness is anecdotal, castor oil is prized for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties — making it an effective facial cleanser and moisturizer
  • Castor oil has also been said to promote hair growth, strengthen cracked and weak nails, relieve colic, soothe muscle and joint pain and induce labor
  • Raw castor beans contain a potent poison called ricin, which occasionally makes news for its use as a chemical warfare agent

Castor oil — a yellow-tinted, translucent vegetable oil — is derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant. It is an unsaturated omega-9 fat with a reputation for having a distinctively unpleasant taste. You may be old enough to remember being forced to drink castor oil, perhaps to relieve constipation, which some thought was reflected in a child's unpleasant mood.

Strong taste aside, castor oil has been used for millennia to treat medical conditions — most notably digestive issues, including constipation and dysentery. In modern times, castor oil continues to be used as an ingredient in laxatives, as well as in a wide variety of everyday items — from cleaning products, coatings and cosmetics to paints, plastics and perfumes.

Although some users of castor oil complain of negative reactions, such as itching, rashes and swelling, others prize it for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and moisturizing effects. If you have not yet tried castor oil, you may want to consider using it as a cleanser and moisturizer for your face and skin.

Castor Oil Was Historically Used as a Laxative and Fuel

Castor oil, which is made by pressing the seeds of the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), is native to India and has since appeared in tropical areas within Africa and Asia. It has a long history of use, as a laxative and fuel for lamps, including:1,2

  • In India, where it is also used as a cleanser and purifier in the Ayurvedic tradition, which further promotes it as a cure for arthritic diseases
  • By the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, in whose tombs castor seeds were found
  • In Europe during the early Middle Ages after which time it fell into disuse

Today, castor oil is a primary ingredient in hundreds of cosmetic products. It continues to be regarded for its laxative effects and is sometimes used to induce labor. Industrially, it is used in the production of nylon and other synthetic fibers, as well as resins. Castor oil is found in food containers, insulation, motor oil, paint, plastics, soap and varnish.3

Using Castor Oil as a Laxative

Castor oil is a triglyceride composed of fatty acids, 90 percent of which is ricinoleic acid. It is broken down into ricinoleic acid in your small intestine, which speeds up your processes for digestion and elimination.

If you have occasional bouts of constipation, you may consider using castor oil because it is a proven, natural and relatively inexpensive remedy. That said, keep in mind it is a stimulant laxative, which means it causes your bowel to move, squeeze and contract more intensely than it normally would as it passes waste through your intestine and out your rectum.4

Because long-term use of stimulant laxatives can weaken your bowel muscles, I advise you use castor oil for constipation relief infrequently. Also, keep in mind some people react negatively to castor oil, especially at higher doses. Medical News Today shares the following additional information about using castor oil for constipation:5

  • A typical dose is equal to about 3 teaspoons for adults
  • It can cause a bowel movement to occur in about two to three hours, or as long as six hours in some instances
  • Take only the recommended dose and remain in an area near a toilet while you wait for castor oil to take effect
  • For best results, avoid taking castor oil before going to bed

Castor Oil Is Great for Your Skin

Beyond its laxative effects, castor oil is also known for possessing the following characteristics as it relates to your face and skin:6

Anti-inflammatory — Because castor oil and ricinoleic acid have known anti-inflammatory properties, they are useful in treating irritated skin, including acne, dermatosis and psoriasis.

Antimicrobial — Research published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine and Advance Sciences affirmed castor oil's antimicrobial properties, finding it to be an effective agent against bacterial infections resisting invading pathogens. The study authors said:7

"The seed extract of the castor oil plant inhibited the growth of Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC15156), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhi and Escherichia coli. Also, growth of Candida albicans was inhibited by a crude extract of Ricinus communis (castor oil) seeds."

Cleansing — Castor oil is naturally astringent and helps pull impurities from your skin. It has even been shown to be effective in cleansing both oily and acne-prone skin.

Moisturizing — Due to its oily nature, castor oil adds a protective layer that prevents water from leaving your skin. The presence of triglycerides also help maintain moisture.

The experts at Skincare Ox highly recommend castor oil as an acne treatment, saying:8

"Organic castor oil has been called a 'must have' by skin care and oil cleansing method experts. Cold pressed from the seeds of the castor plant, castor oil is a thick, sticky liquid known for its powerful purging and detoxing properties.

The oil contains two unique compounds, ricinoleic acid and undecylenic acid, which make castor oil an ideal skin care choice for those who suffer from mild to severe acne."

For Best Results With Castor Oil, Do a Skin Test and Use a Carrier Oil

Before applying castor oil to your face or skin, it's important to do a skin test to see if any adverse reactions occur. In people with sensitivities, castor oil has been known to cause unpleasant side effects such as itching, rashes and swelling. If you have an allergic reaction, stop using castor oil immediately and, if necessary, seek medical attention.

Due to its strength, as well as to aid in its absorption, it's best to dilute castor oil in an organic carrier oil prior to applying it to your body. Although you may need to experiment to find the right one, some have recommended choosing a carrier oil based on your skin type:9,10

  • Dry skin — Use coconut oil or sesame oil as your carrier oil
  • Normal skin— Use grapeseed oil or olive oil
  • Oily skin — Use jojoba oil

Castor Oil Nourishes Dry, Aging Skin

Castor oil has a remarkable effect on all skin types, including dry skin, oily skin, combination skin and even aging skin.11 Due to the presence of vitamin E, castor oil offers antioxidants that help moisturize your skin while reducing the signs of aging.

Since castor oil has a low comedogenic score, it is unlikely to clog your pores. Assuming you do not have a sensitivity to castor oil, you can use it regardless of your skin type because it does not promote acne or blackheads.

Applying castor oil daily (or nightly) during the winter months can be especially helpful because that is when your skin is driest and in the most need of nourishment. While there is very little scientific research to support its skin-enhancing benefits, plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests castor oil:12,13

Heals chapped lips — Due to its high viscosity, castor oil provides a thick layer of moisture and nourishment to chapped, cracked or dry lips. You can apply castor oil to your lips proactively to prevent chapping. For this reason, castor oil is found in many commercial lip care products.

Nourishes dry skin — Castor oil soothes dry, flaky or scaly skin, adding moisture and soothing relief. The presence of fatty acids may help your skin stay healthy and glowing.

Prevents stretch marks — Because it works as a humectant, castor oil can help your skin retain moisture and elasticity, thereby preventing stretch marks. With prolonged use, it may diminish existing stretch marks, too.

Reduces wrinkles and other signs of aging — Castor oil is an effective remedy for crow's feet, fine lines and wrinkles because it helps stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, which promote younger looking, radiant skin.

Castor oil also treats hyperpigmentation, clearing your skin of age spots and other unsightly marks. In addition, it has been shown to diminish the signs of blemishes and scars. Some have had success using it on skin tags and warts.

Softens calluses — Because it is a thick oil, castor oil has beneficial effects on calluses, corns and cracked heels. It adds moisture and softens tough, dry skin anywhere on your body.

Treats sunburn — Due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, castor oil reduces swelling and soothes blisters resulting from sunburn.

Castor Oil Promotes Hair Growth

Similar to its purported benefits for your skin, scientific evidence for castor oil's positive effects on your hair are mainly anecdotal. That said, this versatile oil has been shown to deeply condition your hair and thicken hair strands. If you have fine hair, castor oil may help build up individual hair strands, giving them a fuller and more vibrant appearance.

Similar to a deep-conditioning treatment, you can use castor oil to control and reduce split ends. Due to its follicle-stimulating and nourishing properties, castor oil is believed to thicken your eyebrows and eyelashes. It is believed to provide the fatty acids, protein, vitamins and other nutrients your hair follicles need to stimulate hair growth and promote a richer hair color.14

Applying a combination of coconut oil and castor oil may also benefit your hair. Beyond its positive effects on your skin and hair, some suggest castor oil can strengthen weak and cracked nails.

Applying castor oil regularly to your nails is also believed to reduce your risk of fungal infection. Although nail problems such as thin or brittle nails may be a sign of illnesses like hypothyroidism, there is little harm in trying castor oil on your nails.

Particularly if your nails chip, crack, peel or split as a result of long-term nail polish use or repeated exposure to moist conditions, including frequent dishwashing or swimming, castor oil may be just what they need to become rejuvenated.

Other Beneficial Uses for Castor Oil

The featured video suggests the following additional beneficial uses for castor oil, which may:15

  • Calm colicky infants — Rub a small amount of castor oil on the baby's stomach to calm colic.
  • Help you sleep better — Dabbing a small amount of castor oil on your eyelids before bed may help you fall asleep more quickly, while facilitating a deeper and longer sleep.
  • Relieve joint pain — A 2009 study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research proved that castor oil was an effective treatment for primary knee osteoarthritis.16
  • Soothe achy muscles — You can rub castor oil on your muscles after an intense workout to relieve soreness and promote blood circulation. Obtain an additional soothing effect by mixing castor oil with a drop of peppermint essential oil or Roman chamomile essential oil.

Have You Tried the Oil Cleansing Method?

While it may sound counterintuitive, cleansing your face with oil is just what your skin needs. If you've never heard about or tried the oil cleansing method, now is the time to become informed. While castor oil is the perfect oil to use with this method, you'll need a secondary oil and the patience to do some experimenting.

For starters, you might try a blend containing 25 percent castor oil to 75 percent carrier oil and adjust from there. Create very small batches, such as 1 teaspoon castor oil and 3 teaspoons carrier oil, until you figure out the right blend for you. There is no need to wet your face or remove your makeup before performing the cleanse, which is detailed below.17

Applying the oil blend to your face:

  1. Place a teaspoon of your oil blend in your hand and rub your hands together to warm it
  2. Massage the oil gently onto your face using circular strokes for about two minutes
  3. Leave the oil on your skin for up to 10 minutes if you want a deeper cleansing of your pores; simply relax while you wait

Removing the oil from your face:

  1. Soak a clean washcloth with very hot tap water, wring it out and drape it across your face (no scrubbing is required)
  2. Leave the washcloth on until it cools; the heat will gently open your pores
  3. Rinse and reapply the hot washcloth once or twice more, as desired

Beware of the Castor Plant and Its Seeds

While castor oil is regarded for its many healing properties, you should know the castor plant contains a potent poison called ricin. Ricin is found in raw castor beans and the "mash" left behind after castor oil has been processed. Intaking ricin orally, nasally or via intravenous transfusion can kill you. According to Popular Science:18

"It's a highly unpleasant way to be poisoned: Within six hours, according to the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention], victims who have ingested ricin will feel gastrointestinal effects like severe vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to serious dehydration.

Then the ricin infects the cells of the vital gastrointestinal organs as they pass through the body, leading to the failure of the kidneys, liver and pancreas."

Ricin is so potent that ingesting or inhaling it may be deadly.19,20 Given there is no antidote for ricin, it is feared that it could be used as a chemical warfare agent, and in fact some government officials suspect it may have been used in the 1980s in Iraq, and possibly more recently by terrorist organizations.21

As noted in the Fox News video above, in October 2018, two envelopes thought to contain ricin had been found in the Pentagon's Central Processing Center. Another envelope addressed to President Donald Trump was intercepted before arriving at the White House.22

While ricin is highly toxic, you need not worry about the risk of ricin poisoning from castor oil. Ricin is extracted from castor seeds during the manufacturing process, which explains how it can be added to cosmetic products without any toxic effects.

Castor Oil Contraindications

Do not use castor oil if you are pregnant because it has been shown to induce labor. If you are using it as a laxative, do so only under the direction of your health care practitioner.

Finally, make sure you purchase organic, cold pressed castor oil from a reputable source. Avoid commercial castor oil sold in stores because much of it comes from castor seeds heavily sprayed with pesticides or processed with solvents such as hexane.