Have you reaped the benefits of castor oil yet? If you’ve been quick off the mark and already slather it on your hair, brows, and eyelashes, then kudos to you. If not, you’re in for a vitamin-rich treat. While we’ve long touted the wide-ranging benefits of coconut oil, argan oil, rose hip, and others, good old castor oil and its long list of uses have been left out of the healthy-oil buzz. Well, we’re here to change all that.
Type of ingredient: Hydrator
Main benefits: Hydrating, soothing, detoxifying
Who should use it: In general, people with problematic skin, or people who want to prevent wrinkles. Pregnant women should avoid Castor oil as it can induce labor.
How often can you use it: Get derm to answer
Works well with: Other oils like almond and jojoba
Don't use with: Any other possible irritants.
What is Castor Oil?
Pressed from castor seeds found in the tropical Ricinus communis plant, castor oil is thicker and gloopier than, say, argan or coconut oil. But as its texture suggests, it’s also far richer in vitamin E and fatty acids than most plant oils, making it an especially effective replenisher for skin and hair. But the story doesn’t end there. The medicinal properties of castor oil are thought to have been harnessed as far back as ancient Egyptian times when the oil was regarded by many as an immunity-boosting elixir. In fact, it’s still a mainstay of Ayurvedic medicine. Upon reviewing its properties, we get why.
But what do dermatologists think? Well, it's mixed at best. "Castor Oil is sometimes credited with helping the absorption of other products into the skin, as well, it has purported (key word) other benefits: anti-inflammatory/antibacterial/moisturizing, however there is minimal data or studies showing these claims, and there is a significant divergence of opinion among skin experts, so it’s rarely considered a first line agent," says Dr. Ranella Hirsch, Board Certified Dermatologist and co-founder of Atolla.
Dr. Morgan Rabach, Co-founder of LM Medical NYC in Greenwich Village and Board-certified Dermatologist, has a slightly different take: "Castor oil is a moisturizer for the skin, hair and nails, and can be used alone or with other products. For people with acne prone skin, I would not recommend it, because oils go into the pores and clog them, exacerbating acne. The moisturizing effects are especially useful for chapped lips and super dry hands and feet in winter. There are some reports that it may have some anti-inflammatory properties, although it has not been well tested or established."
Benefits of Castor Oil for Skin
Regardless of who we choose to listen to, we all know that truly radiant skin starts on the inside. But according to Katie Pande, medical herbalist and senior herbal advisor at Pukka Herbs, applying castor oil topically (that’s right, no need to ingest it although you can if you want) can in fact you reap rewards, too.
“It’s easy to give yourself glowing skin with castor oil by using it to help support your liver,” says Pande. “Apply the oil to a flannel, and then place it on your skin over the liver region under your right breast. Try to leave it there for a minimum of an hour. Wrapping it in cling film can help. Overnight, it can work wonders.”
While the exact biochemical process behind why this method works is still being researched, the leading scientific theory is that castor oil’s properties boost the body’s lymphatic drainage system by increasing activity among some white blood cells. As a result, waste and toxins are eliminated from the body, and glowing skin emerges.
How to Use Castor Oil
Protect Against Wrinkles
Get ready to hear something groundbreaking: Castor oil could be your answer to fighting signs of aging without super-strength serums or injections. “Castor oil penetrates the skin and helps to stimulate the body’s own production of collagen and elastin, which can soften and hydrate the skin,” explains Pande.
As you might know, reserves of collagen and elastin (which keep skin looking plump) deplete as we age—especially in delicate areas such as around the eyes, mouth, and forehead, where fine lines tend to appear first. To help stop this, Pande suggests you “dip a small cotton ball into castor oil, and then apply it to your skin before going to bed.”
Speed Up Hair Growth
Yes, castor oil is believed to help speed up hair growth, making it a favorite for homemade brow and lash serums. There are two theories as to how this happens: The first being that ricinoleic acid works to inhibit the hormones associated with hair loss and baldness. The second theory follows on from the hydrating and healing properties of castor oil. Some say that using it while massaging the roots and scalp will help to replenish the skin (essential for hair growth) and stimulate circulation.
“For longer lashes, replace your eye-makeup remover with castor oil and wipe away the day’s mascara whilst allowing the castor oil to delicately coat your lashes, lengthening and protecting them,” says Pande.
Soothe Problematic Skin
As if boosting collagen and speeding up hair growth weren’t enough, castor oil is also well-known for its healing properties against eczema, dermatitis, rosacea, psoriasis, and keratosis pilaris.
So how does it work? Being especially rich in naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ricinoleic acid, castor oil has the advantage of a dual-action approach. The oil hydrates skin and fights bacteria at the same time, helping to end the cyclical nature of itching and irritation.
“Inflamed skin is crying out for castor oil,” says Pande, who recommends dabbing a little oil on affected areas morning and night.
Fend Off Split Ends
Packed with replenishing omega-6 fatty acids, repairing amino acids and enriching vitamin E, castor oil is a great one for helping to keep hair strong and healthy, delaying the arrival of those dreaded split ends.
“When it comes to sneaky split ends, put a quarter-sized drop of castor oil in the palm of your hand, and then warm it with your other hand before smoothing through the ends of your hair,” advises Pande. “For the ultimate restorative hair mask, blend with coconut oil and leave it on overnight to work its magic on your mane.”
Get Things Moving
We’ll get straight to the point: If you’re prone to sluggish digestion or constipation, castor oil is your friend. Thanks again to that high concentration of ricinoleic acid, castor oil has long been used as a natural laxative to help get things moving.
“When someone swallows castor oil, ricinoleic acid latches onto EP3 molecules in smooth muscle cells on the walls of the small intestine and causes contractions,” explains Science Magazine.
Side Effects of Castor Oil
Doctors often advise against using castor oil during pregnancy, as it can have a contracting effect on the uterus. A good rule of thumb is to consult a GP or pharmacist for guidelines on how to take castor oil, though some product labels suggest beginning with a 15-milliliter dose (if you're using it for constipation) before adjusting as you need and never exceeding 60 milliliters.
The Best Products With Castor Oil
One of the easiest brands to find, Tropic Isle have been producing and selling castor oil from Jamaica for almost twenty years.
You might recognize Pukka for their tea or their herbs, but they also make and sell cold-pressed oils like this castor oil.
Natural hair-oriented brand Bomba Curls made this oil for hair, but they suggest you use it on your whole body. Castor oil is a huge component, but so are black cumin seed oil and coffee seed oil, the latter of which the brand calls a "true Dominican hair secret."
Lipstick might not be the first place you look for castor oil, but it's actually the first listed ingredient in all of Lipstick Queen's lipsticks. The company set out to turn the lipstick industry on its head with their hydrating formulas, which is why they also tout shea butter and meadowfoam seed oil as ingredients.
There are few body oils that excite editors more than this classic, which boasts grape seed oil and squalane as two of its top active ingredients. Also on the list? Castor oil. It's super nourishing, and conveniently comes in a spray so not a single drop is wasted.
Another bottle of castor oil, pure and cold pressed, this time from beloved haircare brand Briogeo. It's even fair-trade, so you know you're getting an ethical product.
Who knew one simple ingredient could hold so much beauty power?