7 Things To Know About Castor Oil Before You Add It To Your Beauty Routine

Ever since the [castor oil hair challenge made waves in 2014, I've included this thick oil made from castor beans in many of my hair potions. Unfortunately, castor oil's been getting a bad rap in the news lately, with several beauty bloggers reporting total eyebrow loss after they attempted to use castor oil as a hair growth treatment. Even the most natural products can come with their share of nasty side effects when not used correctly, but I prefer to take these opportunities as learning experiences — not a reason to go back to store-bought products. Unfortunately, like many miracle growth treatments, using castor oil on your skin comes with side effects and anyone looking to DIY with castor oil should be read up on safety measures.

When I read a fellow-DIYer's eyebrows had fallen out after using castor oil as a hair growth treatment, I felt serious empathy — I've certainly had my run-ins with dangerous natural ingredients in the past and hope that instead of turning anyone off completely from natural remedies, we all remember that nature is filled with healthy alternatives, but also grows toxins that are dangerous and sometimes lethal for human consumption.

Castor oil was originally intended for industrial purposes because it doesn't freeze due to its high viscosity (friction of a moving liquid). That's also what makes it such a powerful emollient and pulling agent in DIY recipes. Unfortunately, just like many of my fave DIY treatments, there are risks to using castor oil for short or long-term treatments. In light of the recent eyebrow loss epidemic, I hit up some of my favorite medical journals, brands, and teachers to best explain the castor-phenomena risks.

Before you ditch castor oil for good and/or before you try the benefits out yourself, here is everything you should know about the stuff.

1. Castor Oil Is Best For Short-Term Use

Many natural remedies are ideal for acute treatment rather than chronic. For example, if you've ever fallen for tea tree oil's ability to relieve acne, you're probably aware that the same antiseptic qualities to treat acne are so powerful that they can create severe dryness with prolonged regular useage. Castor oil works under the same system: Too much of an aggressive treatment can leave you with unsightly skin woes. Introduce castor oil into your regimen slowly for a week, rather than going castor-crazy all at once.

2. Any Ingredient Can Be A Potential Irritant

Many natural ingredients are considered irritants, not just castor oil. Baking soda, tea tree oil, lemon essential oil, bee pollen, and clove essential oil are all irritants that have a major role in treating acute to chronic skin conditions. The best way to confirm if you do or don't have a dermal reaction is to do a test patch on the inside of your arm before you start any new treatment.

Keep in mind that new recipes with ingredients you've already ruled out as irritants can react different when applied on the skin together. Keep your essential oils diluted for dermal applications with a carrier oil and when in doubt? Ask an herbalist/aromatherapist, their are plenty of us out there and only an email away. Organic Facts and Wellness Mama are excellent natural resources to start safely using natural ingredients.

3. Topical Use Of Castor Oil Is Unlikely To Upset Your Stomach

While consuming castor oil has a common side effect of irritating the small intestine, applying castor topically will not have the same effect, according to medical website Mercola. While other sources claim that some topical treatments can impact the digestive system when they penetrate deep into the protective layers of our skin, different methods of topical application applied directly to your stomach have claimed to relieve constipation by stimulating the digestive system. However, short term use on our scalps or eyebrows are unlikely to cause those same severe risks that come with consumption.

4. Some Castor Seeds Contain A Lethal Toxin

Castor seeds contain a toxin called ricin, a protein so toxic it was once used in chemical warfare. Internet sources debate whether or not ricin is present in castor oil (even castor-oil.com claims it is), but sources at the US National Library of Medicine says that once the oil and bean are separated, the toxin remains in the bean pulp and not the oil. Furthermore, it becomes inactivated through heat extraction.

However, it's important to investigate the source of your castor oil: Companies may not be properly vetting their castor supplier. While the chances of running into truly toxic castor are rare, remember that studies are ongoing about natural ingredients and their toxicity levels, risks, and benefits.

5. The Source Of Your Castor Oil May Be The Source Of Irritation

Purchasing castor oil from a reputable brand is extremely important. As the writer who fell victim to her eyebrows falling out mentioned, preservatives in castor oil, like grapeseed extract, can be irritating on the skin. Since castor oil has a greasy scent, many brands are inclined to add additional aromas and additives that can be the source of irritation. I purchase my castor oil from Aura Cacia and when it isn't possible, I'm always checking the label to make sure the only ingredient in my castor oil is castor oil. It also never hurts to do a quick Google search of the company to make sure nothing shady pops up!

6. Cold Pressed Castor Oil Is Probably Best

A cold-press label is a step in the right direction, but keep in mind that many manufacturers use modern cold pressing methods which can include heating the oil multiple times and running the risk of removing the topical benefits along with the any toxins. However, as stated in the same article in the US National Library of Medicine, castor oil loses toxicity through heat extraction, so you're probably good with those modern techniques. Additionally, using a GMO-free, organic label will negate possible negative skin reactions caused by pesticides and additives to the plant prior to extraction.

7. The Dermal Claims Are Subjective

While I can boast about the hair benefits I've seen with castor oil use, I cannot speak to the skin claims and apparently, scientific studies can't either. Like so many beneficial natural ingredients, Western studies are lagging behind in sound research of the topical benefits of castor oil. The saddest part about that? Studies on the risks and benefits of castor oil on skin could've saved someone a pair of eyebrows.

DIY beauty allows you to control what you're putting on your body as you are able to control what you are putting into it, but natural beauty recipes should educate as much as they do instruct on if and how we want to introduce a natural ingredient into our routines.

Image: Brent Hofacker, anatchant/Fotolia; Kristin Collins Jackson (4), amazon.com