Castor oil is a plant-based remedy used for centuries for its many purported health benefits. From getting your gut moving to stimulating hair growth, there’s a lot this natural oil can do.
But one of the most popular uses for castor oil is as a natural beauty treatment. And no wonder when you consider its nourishing fatty acids, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Many peeps swear by its skin, hair, and nail-boosting attributes — but is it really all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s what the science says.
What is castor oil?
Castor oil comes from the seeds (aka beans) of the Ricinus communis plant, which is native to east Africa. Now, these beans are interesting as they contain a poison called ricin, which is incredibly toxic. Memories of Breaking Bad, anyone? Gram for gram ricin is thought to be 12,000 times more deadly than rattlesnake venom!
But, besides the toxic nature of some of the plant’s parts, castor oil has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes — including for the skin. It has a history dating back thousands of years, and there’s even been evidence discovered in ancient tombs.
And even though it’s been used for centuries, it’s still commonplace in modern times. In fact, you may have even used it before, and not even realized it, as it’s a common ingredient in many beauty products. So what can castor oil do for skin?
Castor oil for skin benefits
Folks use castor oil to induce labor, as a laxative, and to treat pain. But it’s also said to help with a variety of skin conditions. But does it help? Although scant, some scientific evidence supports the use of castor oil for certain skin conditions thanks to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing properties. Let’s take a look.
Castor oil contains a cocktail of antioxidants that tackle free radicals. These highly reactive and unstable molecules charge around your body, damaging cells and causing inflammation. All of these factors play a huge part in skin aging.
Free radicals are responsible for accelerating the aging process, making wrinkles appear sooner. So using antioxidant-rich castor oil may help to keep your skin looking younger for longer.
Acne happens when hair follicles get blocked with sebum — an oily substance produced by the body to keep skin moisturized. When sebum mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, namely Propionibacterium acnes, it causes inflammation and zits.
Castor oil has antibacterial properties. A 2012 laboratory study noted castor oil extract has significant potential in preventing disease-causing bacteria and fungi from growing. So, slapping some on your face could banish the bacteria behind breakouts.
Your skin needs to maintain a healthy balance of natural oils to stay hydrated, look plump, and prevent dryness, itchiness, and flakes.
Castor oil is an abundant source of ricinoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. This natural moisturizer is a fatty emollient that boosts skin barrier function and helps keep your skin feeling soft and looking healthy.
UV radiation from the sun causes skin damage, redness, and inflammation. Plus, it accelerates aging and increases your risk of skin cancer. Unless you’ve been uber-vigilant, you’re probably familiar with the stinging, burning, and pain of bad sunburn that can happen as you chase a tan.
If you’re dealing with uncomfy sunburn, castor oil’s anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties may help calm your angry skin and reduce discomfort.
Thanks to its moisture-locking properties, castor oil prevents wounds from drying out, which may help healing. It also zaps away germs and bacteria that could cause infection.
In one small study, a cream containing castor oil helped heal skin graft donor sites in 36 participants. And side effects were minimal. Another study found that castor oil accelerated the healing of pressure sores in nursing home residents. Compared to other methods, the wounds treated with castor oil healed more quickly and completely.
How to use castor oil on skin:
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use castor oil for your skin concerns:
- Purchase a high-quality, preferably pure, and organic castor oil product free from harmful additives.
- Dilute the oil. Some oils are pre-diluted with carrier oils for enhanced absorption. If yours isn’t, you’ll need to dilute it at a 1:1 ratio with olive, grapeseed, or avocado oil.
- Before applying the oil, cleanse and dry your skin.
- Place a couple of drops of castor oil onto your fingertips.
- Dot around your face or on the areas of concern only, and gently massage the oil into your skin in a circular motion. Avoid getting the oil too close to your eyes.
- Leave for at least 30 minutes or apply in the evening and leave overnight for maximum absorption.
- Wash off with warm water and follow with your favorite moisturizer to lock in hydration.
- Repeat this process 1–2 times per week.
PSA: If you’re unsure how your skin will react to castor oil, it’s best to do a patch test first. Just apply a small amount of castor oil on the inner part of your arm. If you don’t notice any irritation or redness after 24 hours, you should be good to go.
Castor oil side effects
Castor oil is used in hundreds of cosmetic products. And while it’s generally considered safe, there are a few possible side effects to be aware of.
- Allergic reactions: You can be allergic to anything, so it’s not surprising that some folks might have an allergy to castor oil. If you experience any itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing after using products containing castor oil, discontinue use immediately and see a doctor.
- Eye irritation: If castor oil gets in your eye, you might experience discomfort. To avoid this, be careful when applying castor oil products near your eyes. If you get it in your eye, rinse it immediately with water.
- Worsening skin conditions: If you have psoriasis, eczema, or other skin conditions, castor oil might worsen them.
Castor oil has a long history of health and beauty uses. When used topically, it may help with various skin concerns like aging, acne, puffiness, and wounds. This is thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Plus, it’s an awesome moisturizer that can lock in hydration.
It’s likely safe for most peeps, but some folks may have an allergy or find it irritating to their skin. If that’s you, discontinue use and see your doc.
Remember to buy quality products from reputable brands if you’re thinking of giving castor oil a try. And as with any new beauty product you introduce into your routine, do a patch test first to ensure your skin can handle it.