Not so long ago, moms everywhere used castor oil as a cure-all for many ailments, from stomach pain to fever to its most famous use — easing constipation. Take a teaspoon, and you are good! Some parents threatened a spoonful as “punishment.” Ah, the dreaded castor oil! This was so popular and common that it made its way into TV shows — from "Tom and Jerry" to "The Little Rascals."
Even before the modern era, people loved castor oil. Its earliest mention was in the 6,000-year-old Papyrus Ebers, an ancient Egyptian scroll of herbal medicine. Derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant, ancient Egyptians used castor oil to treat eye, skin, and hair conditions, as well as headaches. It also became an important oil for Ayurvedic medicine. During the middle ages, this oil's popularity grew in Europe, most notably for its skin healing properties.
Today, people continue to use castor oil as a natural remedy.
How Castor Oil Can Benefit You
- Moisturizes Skin
- Soothes Inflammation
- Helps Clear Phlegm
- Resists Harmful Organisms
- Boosts the Immune System & Heals Wounds
- Promotes Eye Health
- Stimulates Hair Growth
- Relieves Constipation
What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil comes from the castor bean (Ricinus communis). People once called it “palma christi” because its leaves resemble the hands of Christ. The seeds of the plant are the source of castor oil used for medicinal and industrial purposes.
You make castor oil by cold-pressing the seeds of the plant. The seeds contain 30 to 50 percent oil, rich in triglycerides. Most of the oil is ricinoleic acid, an unsaturated omega-9 fatty acid with contains strong anti-inflammatory properties. Castor oil also contains oleic acid, linolenic acid, flavonoids, terpenoids, and other nutrients, all of which make castor oil a powerful healing agent.[3, 4]
Top Benefits of Castor Oil
Castor oil's versatility makes it beneficial for several issues. These are the top benefits it provides.
Whether you have dry skin, cracked heels, or wrinkles, castor oil moisturizes and rejuvenates skin, making it smoother and softer. Ricinoleic acid, castor oil's primary fatty acid, works with the oil's amino acids to nourish and condition skin.
Due to its thick texture, castor oil stays put when applied and deeply penetrates your skin's tissue. This is particularly soothing for dry, patchy skin caused by eczema because the anti-inflammatory properties in the oil help reduce itching and discomfort.
Spend too much time in the sun? Apply castor oil! The antioxidants present in the oil help prevent skin damage caused by sunburn.
Castor oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its high concentration of ricinoleic acid. This acid has been credited for its ability to decrease inflammation while increasing circulation in the body.
When you apply castor oil topically, it reduces inflammation and relieves pain and swelling. This includes the sore joints of arthritis and gout, muscle tension and sprains, menstrual cramps, and tendinitis.
Helps Clear Phlegm
Castor oil packs are incredibly helpful for clearing phlegm from the lungs. You can do this as part of a lung cleanse. These are great if you’re trying to breathe easier from allergies or you recently quit smoking — or for any other reason! See our castor pack details below.
Castor oil packs work because its active ingredients, including ricinoleic acid, reduce inflammation and stimulate the liver and gallbladder.
Taking it internally can also aid in detoxification by helping your body's lymphatic system flush toxins.
Resists Harmful Organisms
The ricinoleic acid found in castor oil may prevent the growth of harmful organisms, including bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and molds.
The castor seed protein has antibacterial and even anti-cancer properties. When combined with ginger, castor oil can significantly reduce the number of bacteria growing in the mouth and can be helpful after oral surgery. This method is like oil-pulling, where you swish an oil in your mouth. Take a tablespoon of castor oil and a quarter teaspoon of fresh ginger, juiced or minced, and swish in your mouth for 10 minutes, then spit it out.
Boosts the Immune System & Heals Wounds
When you apply castor oil packs on the abdomen, it may stimulate the immune system. This increases the production of lymphocytes — white blood cells that help defend the body against invaders.
Applied topically, castor oil can also stimulate wound healing. Not only does it resist the harmful organisms common to wounds, but it also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
Promotes Eye Health
Humans have been using castor oil to improve eye health for thousands of years. It is said that Cleopatra used castor oil to brighten the whites of her eyes! Castor oil promotes collagen and skin cell production when taken by mouth. The high content of ricinoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids protect the eye’s “tear film” layer that keeps moisture from evaporating.
Some naturopathic doctors recommend castor oil for eye health. However, over-the-counter castor oil may not be sterile and using it in the eye could lead to an infection. Always check with your healthcare provider before using any new remedy.
Stimulates Hair Growth
Rich in fatty acids, vitamin E, and other proteins and minerals, castor oil can nourish hair follicles and moisturize your hair down to its roots. The antibacterial and antifungal properties in the oil can reduce dandruff as well as scalp infections.
An olive oil-castor oil combination works well for split ends in your hair. It can even prevent hair loss and improve your hair's thickness and shine when used as a conditioner. If you are looking for a supplement to promote hair growth, consider biotin, also called vitamin B7.
Castor oil is a well-known stimulant laxative used for thousands of years as a treatment for constipation. Just one tablespoon, and it will clear out your stopped-up insides. Many moms used castor oil as a cure-all, but mainly for constipation relief.
The oil has a bit of a strong taste, so imbibing a spoonful is not usually an enjoyable experience for children. But it works — and quickly!
Castor oil's primary fatty acid (ricinoleic acid) binds to the receptors on your intestinal walls, causing your bowel muscles to contract and push out stool. Most experts agree that you should not take it long-term. In the short-term, it can cause uncomfortable uterine cramping and dehydration. A safe, gentle alternative is a oxygenated magnesium. I recommend Oxy-Powder®.
Popular Castor Oil Uses
With all these varied benefits castor oil provides, we wanted to share some great DIY recipes for you to use. Below are our favorites.
Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil packs are an effective and easy home therapy option for various conditions. They help reduce inflammation throughout the body, help balance your digestive system, relieve pain from headaches or sore joints, and improve your overall health.
They also work great for detoxification and clearing phlegm from the lungs. To do so, place warm castor oil packs on your chest for one to two hours. You will want to cover your bed with a waterproof sheet, as the oil can be messy. A lung cleanse with castor oil packs works even better if you inhale three to four spritzes of Global Healing's Lung Health.
- Cold-pressed castor oil
- Hot water bottle or heating pad
- Plastic wrap or bag
- Buy cotton flannel cloth. There are specific flannels you can buy for creating castor oil packs, or you can use an old flannel sheet or pillowcase. Avoid wool flannel.
- Make sure the pieces are big enough to cover the area where you intend to place it — most commonly, the abdomen or chest.
- Pour castor oil on the flannel cloth. You can do this by folding them and placing the flannel into a jar or bowl and adding enough castor oil to soak them. You'll want the fabric to be saturated but not completely soaked and dripping.
- Unfold and place the flannel cloth over the desired area.
- Cover flannel cloth with a plastic wrap or clean cotton fabric. You can buy special wraparound packs online. You'll want any plastic covering to be larger than the flannel to prevent oil dripping on your bed, couch, or floor. You can also place plastic underneath you, so that if oil does drip, it does not get onto any furniture.
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle over the plastic. If you're using a heating pad, set it on low heat.
- Relax for one to two hours with the castor oil pack in place. This is a great time to practice deep breathing, meditation, or other relaxation techniques.
- When finished, shower or wash the excess oil from your body.
- Repeat as desired, up to four times per week.
- Castor oil packs can be stored in a plastic bag and re-used up to 30 times.
If you are stopped up, you can take castor oil to provide quick relief. However, there are several precautions to this. The strong taste of castor oil can be off-putting to some. You can mix it with warm milk, ginger tea, or orange juice to mask the flavor. Refrigerating your castor oil for an hour can also remove the strong taste.
How to Use: Adults can take one to a maximum of four tablespoons of castor oil a day when using as a laxative, depending on your body weight. Children should take no more than one teaspoon. It will generally work within two to three hours. If you are pregnant, avoid castor oil as it may induce labor.
While it may go against everything you've been told about skin care, applying certain oils to your face can actually be good for your skin. Some cosmetics and acne products strip skin of its natural oils, causing inflammation, which leads to pimples. The essential fatty acids in castor oil help restore your skin's natural moisture balance, help deter acne-causing bacteria, and clear facial blemishes. It also encourages the growth of healthy skin tissue.
How to Use: As an acne treatment, apply 2 to 3 drops of castor oil gently on your face and massage in circular motions. Leave it on overnight and wash your face in the morning with a mild soap. If you prefer, you can wash it off after 5 minutes, instead of leaving it overnight.
Using a regular castor oil treatment can soothe an itchy scalp, get rid of dandruff, and improve the appearance of your hair. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce the redness and swelling that contribute to an itchy scalp.
How to Use: Apply oil directly to your scalp and massage in well. Leave it on for an hour, and rinse. You can also leave it overnight and then rinse out in the morning.
If you add 2 to 3 drops of a high-quality peppermint essential oil, it will increase blood circulation to the scalp and promote hair growth. Combining coconut or jojoba oil with the castor oil can make your hair shinier. No conditioner is necessary after a treatment!
Joint Pain Reliever
The high concentration of ricinoleic acid in castor oil makes it an excellent natural remedy for joint pain. Topical application works effectively for osteoarthritis with no adverse effects.
How to Use: For pain relief, rub the oil directly on your sore joints as often as desired. You may wish to apply heat by using a heating pad or hot water bottle afterward to help your body absorb the oil. Repeat as required.
Fungal Infection Remedy
Castor oil has antifungal and disinfectant properties, making it a useful treatment for athlete's foot and other fungus-related skin infections. It also deters Candida albicans yeast, which can cause oral plaque overgrowth and gum infections.
How to Use: Apply small amounts of castor oil directly to the infected area. Just a few applications over one to two weeks should be sufficient.
Thanks to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, castor oil can help heal wounds. It also helps ward off infections. It’s effective against many types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Castor oil is used in veterinary care, as well, on both open and closed wounds.
How to Use: Directly apply a generous amount of castor oil to the wound and cover with a bandage. Repeat this process daily until the wound has healed.
You don't have to spend a lot of money on expensive lotions to moisturize your skin! Castor oil is a natural anti-aging and skin moisturizing remedy. Its monounsaturated fatty acids — including ricinoleic acid — act as humectants, substances that naturally retain and preserve moisture by protecting the outer layer of skin.
Some people even say it reduces wrinkles! It penetrates the skin and boosts the production of collagen, hydrating your skin and making it appear softer and smoother.
How to Use: Apply a small amount of castor oil over your face, neck, and décolletage, and leave overnight. If preferred, dilute with a carrier, such as organic grapeseed, almond, or extra virgin olive oil. It is safe to use this oil under the sensitive eye area. Wash off with a gentle facial cleanser the following morning. Repeat two to four times a week.
Precautions & Side Effects
Castor oil per day is “generally recognized as safe and effective” by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for use as a laxative. It is also considered safe for external use. Make sure to drink enough water when taking castor oil.
Castor seeds contain the lectin ricin, which can be toxic at high servings. The heating during commercial processing removes ricin, however. Still, remain cautious when consuming castor oil internally and never exceed a teaspoon per day. Do not take castor oil if you are pregnant, as it can cause uterine contractions and induce labor.
External use should be safe and is a great way to bring down inflammation. Before using topically, apply castor oil to a small area of your skin to check for any allergic reactions. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any medical conditions or have questions about use.
Points to Remember
Castor oil is a unique natural remedy thanks to its intense concentration of healing nutrients. These nutrients, especially ricinoleic acid, make it useful for several common health concerns.
Whether it's used to relieve constipation, soothe aching joints, treat acne, improve the health of your hair or heal wounds, castor oil's versatility makes it an excellent addition to any home. Topical use is also beneficial for clearing phlegm, detoxing, and skin moisturizing.
- Hartmann A. Back to the roots — dermatology in ancient Egyptian medicine. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2016;14(4):389-396.
- Vinay RP, et al. Castor oil: properties, uses, and optimization of processing parameters in commercial production. Lipid Insights. 2016;9:1-12.
- Warbs S, et al. Ricinus communis intoxications in human and veterinary medicine-a summary of real cases. Toxins (Basel). 2011 Oct;3(10):1332-1372.
- Markwat SK, et al. Review — Ricinus communis — ethnomedicinal uses and pharmacological activities. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2017 Sep;30(5):1815-1827.
- Hyun-Jun J, et al. Safety evaluation of polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds for cosmetic use. Toxicol Res. 2015 Jun;31(2):105-136.
- Chanchal SK, Swanlata S. In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Res. 2010 Jan-Feb;2(1):22-25.
- Vieira C, et al. Effect of ricinoleic acid in acute and subchronic experimental models of inflammation. Mediators Inflamm. 2000;9(5):223-228.
- Al-Mamun MA, et al. Characterization and evaluation of antibacterial and antiproliferative activities of crude protein extracts isolated from the seed of Ricinus communis in Bangladesh. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16:211.
- Valera MC, et al. In vitro antimicrobial activity of auxiliary chemical substances and natural extracts on Candida albicans and Enterococcus faecalis in root canals. J Appl Oral Sci. 2013 Mar-Apr;21(2):118-123.
- Grady H. Immunomodulation through castor oil packs. J Nat Med. 1997;7(1):84-89.
- Gharibi R, et al. Stimulation of wound healing by electroactive, antibacterial, and antioxidant polyurethane/siloxane dressing membranes: in vitro and in vivo evaluations. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2015 Nov 4;7(43):24296-24311.
- Nada AA, et al. Bioactive polymeric formulations for wound healing. Polym Adv Technol. 2018 Jun; 29(6): 1815–1825.
- Maissa C, et al. Effect of castor oil emulsion eyedrops on tear film composition and stability. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2010 Apr;33(2):76-82.
- Zaid AN, et al. Ethnopharmacological survey of home remedies used for treatment of hair and scalp and their methods of preparation in the West Bank-Palestine. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017;17:355.
- Arslan GG, Eser I. An examination of the effect of castor oil packs on constipation in the elderly. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Feb;17(1):58-62.
- Tunaru S, et al. Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 5;109(23):9179-9184.
- Oh JY, et al. Peppermint oil promotes hair growth without toxic signs. Toxicol Res. 2014 Dec;30(4):297-304.
- Medhi B, et al. Comparative clinical trial of castor oil and diclofenac sodium in patients with osteoarthritis. Phytother Res. 2009 Oct;23(10):1469-1473.
- Leonardo MR, et al. In vitro evaluation of the antimicrobial activity of a castor oil-based irrigant. J Endod. 2001 Dec;27(12):717-719.
- Peres AR, et al. Use of castor oil in tissue repair of extensive wound in senile horse. Acta Sci Vet. 2015;43(Suppl 1):101.
- CFR — Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. US Food & Drug Administration. Apr 2018. Accessed 09 Nov 2018.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.