Health Benefits of Castor Oil

You can take the oil orally or use it on your skin and hair.

A woman uses a dropper to put oil on her hand

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Castor oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the castor bean plant, a flowering plant that is common in eastern parts of the world. The oil is made by cold-pressing seeds of the castor bean plant. 

Castor oil is rich in ricinoleic acid—a type of fatty acid with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pain-relieving properties. 

The use of castor oil as a natural remedy dates back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, castor oil was used to soothe dry eyes and relieve constipation. In Ayurvedic medicine—a holistic approach to medicine native to India—castor oil has been used to improve arthritis pain and treat skin conditions. Today, castor oil is used in the pharmaceutical, medicinal, and manufacturing industries. It is found in many soaps, cosmetics, and hair and skincare products. 

Depending on its intended use, castor oil can be taken orally or applied topically. Some people take it orally as a laxative or as a way to induce labor in pregnancy. Others apply the oil directly to the skin and hair for its moisturizing benefits.

What are the benefits of castor oil?

Castor oil has a long-standing history of use as a natural remedy for a wide variety of health conditions. Research shows that castor oil has many medicinal and therapeutic properties, including: 

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Antiviral
  • Wound-healing 
  • Pain-relieving

These properties make it so that castor oil may benefit several areas of health and wellness. 

Helps Relieve Constipation

Castor oil is perhaps best known as a laxative used to relieve occasional constipation. The oil works by increasing the muscle contractions that push stool through the intestines to eliminate waste. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved castor oil as a safe and effective stimulant laxative, but the oil’s use in this way has declined over the years as more effective laxatives with fewer side effects have become available. 

Castor oil has been shown to help reduce straining during bowel movements, create softer stools, and lessen the feeling of incomplete bowel movements. 

Castor oil can also be used to clean out the bowel before medical procedures, such as colonoscopies, but other types of laxatives are more commonly used for this. 

Castor oil generally works quickly as a laxative and produces a bowel movement within six to 12 hours after taking it. 

Has Moisturizing Qualities

Rich in fatty acids, castor oil has moisturizing qualities that may help keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Castor oil acts as a humectant, a substance that traps moisture in your skin to keep it soft and smooth. In this way, like other skin-friendly oils, castor oil also acts as a barrier to help prevent moisture from evaporating from the skin. 

Manufacturers add castor oil to cosmetics and personal care products—including lotions, lip balms, and makeup—as an emollient (a moisturizing treatment) to promote hydration. 

Castor oil can be used on its own as a moisturizer, but it is thick, so you may want to dilute it with a carrier oil (such as almond, coconut, or jojoba oil) before applying it to your face and body. 

There is limited research on the benefits of castor oil for skin health. One study suggests that the fatty acids in castor oil may promote skin repair and reduce the appearance of acne scars, fine lines, and wrinkles. However, more research is needed to better understand the full effect. 

May Be Helpful for People Who Wear Dentures

Dentures should be cleaned every day to prevent plaque accumulation and protect the oral and overall health of people who wear them. Plaque is a white, sticky layer of bacteria and fungi that commonly grows on dentures. People who wear dentures are especially vulnerable to oral fungal infections, particularly Candida (yeast), which can easily accumulate on dentures and increase the risk of denture stomatitis, an infection associated with oral pain and inflammation. 

Research shows that castor oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties that may be helpful in keeping dentures clean. One study found that soaking dentures in a 10% castor oil solution for 20 minutes effectively kills oral bacteria and fungi. Another study found that brushing dentures and soaking them in a castor oil solution effectively reduces Candida infections among people who wear dentures.

Is Used to Induce Labor in Pregnancy 

Castor oil is a traditional method of stimulating labor. This was once the go-to method for inducing labor, and some midwives continue to favor this natural method of induction. 

Castor oil’s laxative effects are believed to play a role in its labor-inducing properties. When consumed orally, castor oil stimulates the bowels, which can irritate the uterus and cause contractions. Castor oil also increases the production of prostaglandins, fats with hormone-like effects that help prepare the cervix for delivery. 

One study found that nearly 91% of pregnant people who consumed castor oil to induce labor were able to give birth vaginally with no complications. A research review of 19 studies found that oral administration of castor oil is a safe and effective way to prepare the cervix for vaginal birth and induce labor. 

Consuming castor oil to induce labor may cause unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some healthcare providers recommend against the use of castor oil to induce labor because it increases the chances of the baby passing meconium (a newborn’s first bowel movement) before birth, which can be a safety risk. Do not ingest castor oil to induce labor unless your healthcare provider has recommended it.

May Ease Arthritis Pain 

Castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may offer relief for arthritis-related joint pain

One study found that castor oil supplementation may help reduce osteoarthritis-related knee pain. In the study, the participants took castor oil capsules three times a day for four weeks. At the end of the study, 92% of participants with osteoarthritis reported significant reductions in their pain levels, with no adverse effects. 

For another study, researchers evaluated the use of topical castor oil to reduce joint pain. Study participants massaged castor oil onto the skin above their sore knees once a day for two weeks. The researchers determined that castor oil effectively reduced joint pain and inflammation. 

Castor Oil and Hair Health

You might have heard that castor oil can stimulate hair growth or prevent hair loss. However, there is no scientific evidence to confirm this.

You might have also heard that castor oil can treat dandruff and soothe dry, itchy scalps. Although some dandruff products contain castor oil, there is also no research to suggest that castor oil alone can effectively treat dandruff. 

There are some factors to hair health where castor oil might be effective, though. 

Some people use castor oil to moisturize their hair. This is because castor oil can help lubricate hair to keep it shiny and prevent split ends and breakage. 

Castor oil also has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties that may protect the scalp and hair from fungal and bacterial infections. 

Is Castor Oil Safe?

Castor oil is generally considered safe when taken in small doses, but larger amounts may be harmful. Taking in too much castor oil by mouth may lead to a castor oil overdose. Symptoms of a castor oil overdose include:

  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness 
  • Fainting
  • Nausea 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Throat tightness 

Because castor oil can stimulate muscles, it’s recommended that certain people not use the product, including:

  • Pregnant people unless instructed as a part of labor (the oil can lead to premature contractions)
  • People with gastrointestinal conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease 
  • People with abdominal pain that may be caused by bowel obstruction, bowel perforation, or appendicitis 

Castor oil is considered safe for topical use, but it may cause an allergic reaction, such as redness, swelling, itching, and skin rash, in some people. It is best to test the oil on a small patch of skin to see how your body reacts before using it on a larger area. 

It is also possible to develop an allergic reaction after consuming the oil.

A Quick Review

Castor oil is a vegetable oil made by cold-pressing the seeds of the castor bean plant. The oil can be taken orally or applied to the skin or hair. 

People have used castor oil for centuries both as a beauty enhancer and as a treatment for a wide variety of health conditions. Castor oil has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, and pain-relieving properties that may offer health benefits, but more research is needed to back up most claims regarding this natural remedy.  

It is an effective, safe method to relieve constipation. Castor oil is also effective as a skin moisturizer, denture cleaner, and pregnancy inducer. 

Despite numerous claims that castor oil can help grow hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, there is no evidence to support its use to promote hair growth. Limited research suggests that castor oil may help relieve joint pain, but more research is needed. 

Ingesting castor oil may cause side effects such as abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and nausea. When used topically, castor oil may trigger an allergic reaction and cause a skin rash, itchiness, and swelling. Although generally regarded as safe, castor oil isn’t for everybody. Talk to a healthcare provider before using castor oil as a natural remedy. 

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