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Castor Oil: Here's How It Can Help With Your Hair, Skin & Digestion

Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
March 23, 2018
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
By Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
March 23, 2018

Castor oil is one of the oldest forms of medicines worldwide, especially in India where it’s widely available and used in ayurvedic medicine (also called simply ayurveda). Originating in India, ayurveda has been around for more than 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest medical systems in the world. It's based on various holistic treatments like herbs and adopting special diets to bring balance back to the body. Castor oil's various health benefits, from its skin soothing to anti-inflammatory properties, have made it a staple in ayurveda throughout the year. It was used mostly for constipation1 relief and to induce labor in pregnant women. Personally, I recall my mother giving it to me as a child when I was suffering from constipation and as a a hair treatment so I could have long, thick, luscious Indian hair.

What castor oil is and where it comes from.

Castor oil is made from the seeds of a perennial flowering plant called Ricinus communis. This plant is indigenous to the Mediterranean, Eastern Africa, and India, but it's been used as an ornamental plant for a long time, so it's found all over the world. Castor oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids including omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. It’s high in ricinoleic acid, which is a hydroxylated fatty acid released from castor oil by intestinal lipases. Ricinoleic acid is a unique fatty acid that mediates most of castor oil’s beneficial effects in the body and is not found in high concentrations in very many other natural products. Castor oil is also chock full of vitamin E, minerals, and proteins. It's been used in Ayurveda and folk medicine for centuries, but the exact mechanism is still relatively unknown.

The health benefits of castor oil

Castor oil has documented2 anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-microbial3, immune boosting and analgesic properties. This—compounded with the fact that you can use castor oil topically or take it orally—makes it extremely versatile and a perfect go-to remedy for a variety of health woes. One of the best things about castor seed oils is that it's tasteless and odorless, so it makes a great carrier oil, making it wonderful addition to essential oils. Please consult a physician before trying these remedies since castor oil isn’t suitable for everyone—especially during pregnancy.

How to use castor oil.

1. Castor oil for GI issues.

The ricinoleic acid in castor oil4 acts as a stimulant, making it great for constipation1 and gas5. You can take it orally to use it as a laxative. Some side effects range from abdominal cramping to nutrient malabsorption. It’s also safe enough to use for children and massaging a baby’s abdomen with castor oil also helps with constipation, gas, and colic.

2. Castor oil for skin care.

Castor oil is a wonderful addition to any skincare regimen. Healers have long used it to treat age spots, rashes, stretch marks, and sunburns—just to name a few. And now that we know that castor oil exhibits anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties6, it makes sense that it can quell skin issues. Castor oil is also a safe alternative for children and moms can even use castor oil for baby’s diaper rashes by applying a little around the area.

3. Castor oil for hair growth and scalp care.

Castor oil has been widely used for hair regrowth, and although there isn't any definitive research on this particular use, in my practice I've found that massaging it into the scalp stimulates hair growth, while improving flaking and dandruff by preventing bacterial and fungal scalp issues. Castor oil has the added benefit of being a great moisturizer so it also leaves hair shiny and smooth. Beauty bloggers love castor oil as an all natural eyelash treatment to help stimulate natural eyelash or eyebrow growth.

4. Castor oil for acne.

Because of its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, castor oil makes a great acne treatment. Just dabbing a small amount to the affected areas makes a big difference in the size and redness of those inflamed patches of skin.

5. Castor oil for pain and muscle aches

Another good use for castor oil is for relieving sore joints, sore muscles, or pain due to arthritis. The ricinoleic acid penetrates deep into the muscles, where it can put its anti-inflammatory properties to work.

6. Castor oil as an immune-system booster.

We all know that we can't have a healthy body and a happy life if our immune system isn't working optimally. Luckily, ingesting castor oil regularly over is thought to improve immune system, potentially helping with conditions like allergies and rashes that are oftentimes due to an unhealthy inflammatory response in the body. Just be cautious with dosing and always talk to a healthcare professional about your supplement use, since castor oil can cause diarrhea and electrolyte abnormality.

7. Castor oil as a natural detoxifying agent.

Many alternative healthcare experts suspect that castor oil work on the lymphatic system by removing toxins and helping with lymphatic drainage, which is crucial for the healthy elimination of toxins from the body. because it helps you detox at the same time, this makes it an excellent remedy to add to your regular detox routine.

Where to buy castor oil.

After reading about all the health and beauty benefits of castor oil, you're probably ready to make it a staple in your medicine cabinet. So how do you track down a high-quality castor oil product? First, you want to look for a cold-pressed, organic castor oil from a reputable company that undergoes rigorous testing for purity, potency, and safety—especially when it comes to checking for contaminants like heavy metals, bacteria, and pesticides.

As a general rule, the lighter the oil is, the purer it tends to be. You can also purchase Jamaican black castor oil, which is processed differently (it's actually roasted) and much darker in color. Unlike traditional castor oil, the darker the Jamaican black castor oil is, the better.

Castor oil safety concerns.

Precautions with castor oil include (but are not limited to) dehydration, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, and possible skin irritation. Pregnant women need to avoid castor oil since it can induce labor. It used to be advised for women to take it to help with labor but contractions can often be intense, so castor oil use is controversial.

Castor oil is one of those traditional remedies that seems to do it all, from hair care and natural beaut to acne to supporting the immune system. There isn't a lot of research on its exact mechanisms of action, but hopefully in the coming years we'll learn a lot more about exactly how and why it works so well. For now, make sure you're using a high-quality product and talking to your doctor about your supplement use and the natural remedies you're incorporating into your life.

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Bindiya Gandhi, M.D. author page.
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.

Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.