Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
Castor oil is a popular natural health remedy that has been uses for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Egypt. It is made from a plant, Ricinus communis, but is toxic until the oil is extracted and processed for use.
What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil comes from the toxic castor bean, which in and of itself is never eaten. Castor oil, after it has been extracted and prepared, is a thick yellowish to greenish color. It doesn’t have a strong scent and has a mild, bland taste.
Castor oil is frequently used in cosmetic products, medications, skin care products, and hair products, often in conjunction with other oils like almond, argan, olive, or jojoba.
The 6 Most Popular Ways to Use Castor Oil
Castor oil has many uses for wellness, and these are the most research-proven ways it can benefit your health routine. Before starting a new product for health purposes, always as your doctor if it is safe for you to use, and make sure that you have no allergies before adding it to your routine.
1. Moisturize Your Dry Skin and Keep Your Hair Shining
Castor oil is a thick, moisturizing oil that can help make hair thicker and stronger, grow faster, appear shinier, and feel softer. Basically, it’s a superfood for hair.
When castor oil is massaged into the scalp, it can also boost blood flow and help to address scalp-related issues like dandruff.
To use castor oil for hair and scalp, apply it to your hair once or twice per week and let absorb into your hair overnight (wear a shower cap to prevent making a mess all over your pillow), then wash as normal the next morning.
Castor oil can also benefit the skin by sealing moisture into it and helping to address and prevent dryness. This is why castor oil is often used in cosmetic products, cleansers, and other skincare items.
But you don’t have to buy products that contain it, you can use plain castor oil as a skin moisturizer and mask to reap all the same benefits.
If you find that castor oil is too thick to use for your moisturizer, mix it with a thinner oil, like almond or jojoba. You can even add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, too.
2. Naturally Heal Wounds and Relieve Pain
Because castor oil is antibacterial, it can help to heal wounds and keep them from getting infected. Even some prescription-based pharmaceutical creams contain castor oil as an ingredient aimed at healing the skin and topical wounds.
Castor oil can help to spur new tissue regeneration, meaning it can lead to a wound that scabs over and heals more quickly, which decreases the chance of getting infected.
It can also relieve the itching and dryness associated with the healing process and can decrease the chances that you’ll pick at your wound and reopen it.
Castor oil can also cut inflammation and relieve pain, making it useful for people who have pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and other joint issues.
It is a perfect oil to use for massaging the affected areas. Because of the fatty acids in castor oil, it can even decrease joint swelling and pain.
3. Fight Yeast and Candida Infections and Improve Immunity
Yeast infections and candida problems are pesky and hard to get rid of. Candida can be found almost anywhere in the body, but is most prominent in the vaginal canal and the mouth.
It can contribute to significant dental problems. Castor oil effectively fights the candida bacteria and might be able to reverse dental issues like excessive plaque and infected gums, even going so far as to help heal infected roots of teeth.
It can even address denture related infection problems.
Castor oil stimulates lymphatic flow through the body, which is how it can reduce infection and candida problems, since the lymph collects this and then transports it for removal from the body. This effect can be achieved through using castor oil packs topically, directly on the skin, for a few hours.
Even just a single use of a castor oil pack can significantly increase lymphatic flow and decrease the presence of stagnant bacteria.
Castor oil can also be used for boosting immune health in the same way.
4. Induce Your Labor at Home, Relieve Menstrual Disorders, and Improve Breastfeeding
While this one isn’t as popularly used today by doctors, castor oil remains a common at-home remedy to try to stimulate labor. Some midwives even recommend it.
The use of castor oil for inducing labor dates back to ancient Egypt. To induce labor, first check with your OB or midwife to ensure that it’s not contraindicated.
Approximately 4 tablespoons of castor oil can be used to try to induce labor, but beware, the first thing it’ll do is likely to cause intestinal irritation or nausea.
Some research shows that use of castor oil in women who are at least 40 weeks pregnant can increase the chance of labor within 24 hours, and might lower the chance of having a C-section.
But that’s not the only women’s health use for castor oil. Castor oil packs can be used to jump-start a period in cases of irregular cycles or delayed menstruation, and it can even help to address cycle-related pain.
For breastfeeding mothers, castor oil can serve as a galactagogue, meaning that it helps to boost milk production, flow, and supply. However, because it can get into the milk, it should only be used in small doses and only if recommended by your lactation consultant or midwife.
5. Treat Embarrassing Acne
Castor oil can also address acne since it has antibacterial properties. While it might seem counterintuitive to apply oil to acne blemishes, castor oil addresses the underlying cause of acne, which is typically bacteria.
Castor oil can be absorbed into the skin and can kill bacteria that clog pores, leading to acne breakouts. It also softens and soothes the skin, alleviating redness and irritation. Since some forms of acne are rooted in inflammation, castor oil is also effective at reducing inflammatory causes.
As a bonus, many acne medications severely dry out the skin, but castor oil fixes acne while moisturizing at the same time.
To use castor oil for acne, dab the affected area with pure castor oil and leave on overnight. You can also use it for a daily moisturizer or a face mask and cleanser.
6. Natural Constipation Remedy
Constipation is painful and uncomfortable, but most prescription or over-the-counter ways to address it come with side effects or a terrible taste. Castor oil is a natural stimulant laxative that can cause the intestinal muscles to move, helping to create movement in the bowels.
It can also provide a balancing effect on the microbiome bacteria, as the bad bacteria that live there don’t like it, but it doesn’t harm the good bacteria.
Laxatives that are stimulant in nature, even natural ones like castor oil, have a fast result and are not for regular use or they can actually weaken the motility of the intestinal muscles.
It can also cause cramping and intestinal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and even vomiting if it is taken in too high of doses or too often.
Most laxative benefits from castor oil come from taking it orally, but castor oil packs applied topically might be able to help alleviate constipation without the extreme stimulant effects.
How and Where to Buy Castor Oil
Castor oil is a great item to keep on hand in your home, but you might be wondering where to get it.
In order to ensure you’re getting a high-quality product, choose a castor oil that is:
- Contains no other ingredients
Check the expiration date on your castor oil, too, as oils can go rancid when they get too old. Castor oil is a light yellow color, and if it appears dark, that probably means it has been adulterated.
There is also a dark castor oil, known as Jamaican black castor oil, that looks more caramel in color. It has similar benefits and can be used in place of the lighter castor oil.
You can find castor oil in health food stores and at many wellness online retailers. Just be sure you purchase a reputable brand. If you’re not sure, ask your health food store clerk for suggestions, or ask your practitioner to recommend a safe brand for use.
Castor Oil Side Effects and When Not to Use
Castor oil is not for everyone, and it’s important to check with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to use before you start. While the FDA considers castor oil to be GRAS, or generally recognized as safe, it can have some unpleasant symptoms if used improperly.
These can include:
- Intestinal pain and cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
If any symptoms are extreme, or you also experience muscle weakness, cramping, irregular heartbeat or palpitations, decreased urine output, mental confusion, or rectal bleeding, call your doctor immediately and discontinue use.
Castor oil is never safe for use by a pregnant woman unless specifically directed by a doctor, in the late third trimester once she has reached term. If used earlier, it could cause a miscarriage or stillbirth.
While allergic reactions are rare to castor oil, they’re possible, especially if they’re produced on the same equipment as peanut oil, almond oil, or other cross-contaminating allergens.
Always read labels and check with your doctor before using a product if you have allergies.
When using castor oil topically, test a small area first to see if you have a reaction. This is also a good idea to do before you use it internally, as a topical reaction would likely present itself if you’re sensitive or allergic.
Castor oil is not safe for children or pets, so keep it out of their reach.
How to Do a Castor Oil Pack
Castor oil packs can have some good personal health benefits, but there is often confusion on how to use one.
Castor oil packs are simply made from cloth that has been soaked in castor oil (usually a soft flannel cloth) and then placed directly on the skin.
After that, plastic wrap or a piece of plastic are applied to seal the castor oil flannel against the skin, and then a hot water bottle is placed on top of the plastic.
Castor oil packs are often left on for anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Once you’re done with your castor oil pack, it can be refrigerated in a container and reused between 20 and 25 times.
There are times where it’s not okay to do a castor oil pack, and those include:
- Pregnancy or if you could be pregnant
- When skin is broken or there is an open wound
- During menses
To make your own castor oil pack and use it, follow the simple step-by-step instructions:
- Gather 2-3 pieces of cotton flannel that are big enough to cover the area where you’re placing the pack. If they’re too big, cut them down to size.
- In a glass container with a lid, place the flannel. Pour castor oil over it, allowing it to soak and absorb the oil, but not be so soaked that it will be dripping.
- Take the bowl to a bed or couch where you can easily rest while you’re wearing the pack, along with plastic wrap cut 2-3 inches larger than your flannel, as well as a fresh hot water bottle. You may also want to grab a large, old towel or something else to prevent castor oil from leaking anywhere as it will stain any items it touches.
- Lay the flannel across the area you want to place the pack. Cover it with the plastic and then lay the hot water bottle over it.
- Set your timer for 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how long you want to leave it on.
- When your time is up, remove the pack and put it in the refrigerator. Cleanse the area on your skin with warm water.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.