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. While it's worked for me, unfortunately, castor oil has gotten a bad rap in previous years, with several beauty bloggers reporting total eyebrow loss after they attempted to use it as a hair growth treatment. Despite castor oil's many benefits, the truth is that even the most natural products can come with their share of nasty side effects when not used correctly. But instead of freaking out, I prefer to look at these opportunities as learning experience — not a reason to go back to store-bought products. But like many miracle growth treatments, castor oil may not be for everybody. So anyone looking use the product, should be aware of both the risks and benefits before adding it to their routine.
Before even thinking about throwing castor oil into your regimen, it's important to know that it was originally intended for industrial purposes, because it doesn't freeze due to its high viscosity. That's also what makes it such a powerful emollient and pulling agent in DIY recipes. But these same attributes may also make it risky for some people to use in short or long-term treatments. In light of these facts, along with the eyebrow loss scare, I hit up some of my favorite beauty experts, medical journals, and brands to best explain what you should know about castor oil before considering it for topical use.
1. It Can Be A Potential Irritant
"Castor oil is generally a very safe and beneficial ingredient to use." Rachel Roff, medical aesthetician and founder of Urban Skin Rx tells Bustle. "However, some people may have an allergy to it so you should always do a skin test on your chin or arm first just to make sure."
2. 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 lost her eyebrows mentioned, preservatives in castor oil, like grapeseed extract, can be irritating to the skin. But since castor oil has what some think is an unpleasant scent, many brands are inclined to add additional aromas and additives that can be the source of irritation. I personally 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!
3. Castor Oil Can Be Taken Orally — But Not Necessarily For Beauty Benefits
"Castor oil is a mighty laxative to relieve the occasional constipation," says Nickie Nougaisse, CEO and founder of hair care brand Curls Dynasty. However, according to Healthline, using the oil is not advised for children under 12. And for people over 60, it could possibly make bowel problems worse. The report also notes that anyone taking diuretics, antibiotics, blood thinners, or medication for the heart or bones should avoid ingesting castor oil as well.
Nougaisse also adds, "In some cultures, women drink about a teaspoon to help induce labor and help move things along with overdue babies." And while some may be apprehensive about using the oil to get contractions going, studies have proven that it can be a natural and effective way to begin labor.
4. It Is Believed To Have Anti-Viral And Anti-Bacterial Benefits
A 2017 study found castor oil to be effective in treating wounds, skin and throat infections, as well as stomach unrest. In addition, "It has also been rumored to help with Candida (a type of yeast) and other fungus issues," says Roff.
5. Castor Seeds May Contain A Lethal Toxin, But It's Unlikely To Be Found In The Oil
Castor seeds contain a toxin called ricin. Internet sources debate whether or not ricin is present in castor oil, 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.
6. It's Generally Safe To Use On Various Skin Types
"I think the biggest misconception is that the name 'castor oil' makes it sound like a not so good ingredient to put on your face," Roff explains. "But it hydrates skin, relieves irritated skin, and has anti-inflammatory benefits. It has also been known to help with acne — even for oily skin types."
7. Castor Oil Can Relieve Itchy Scalp And Condition Hair
"Castor oil tends to be a thicker oil in its natural state, however, when used as an additive in hair products, its moisturizing capabilities can be beneficial to all hair types," says Ylorie Taylor, vice president of EDEN BodyWorks.
8. But It's Best To Use In Moderation
"As with any product, usage recommendations are based on style preferences, as well as texture," adds Taylor. "Use less product on thinner textures to avoid weighing the hair down. Overtime, even thicker textures can experience product buildup from repeated use. As always, we recommend using product in moderation until you figure out what works best for your hair type."
9. And It Can't "Repair" Hair Damage
"Split ends cannot be fused back together by castor oil but it’ll help to temporarily smooth the frizzy appearance," Nougaisse explains.
"In most, if not all cases, damaged hair has to be removed so healthy hair can flourish," Taylor continues.
10. 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.
11. If Castor Oil Doesn't Work For You, You Still Have Other Options
"I’d recommend Pumpkin Seed oil," Taylor suggests. "It’s packed with nutrients, has some of the same great properties as castor oil and then some!" Roff also likes, "Coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, manuka honey or avocado oil."
This post was originally published on Oct. 4, 2016. It was updated and republished on June 20, 2019. Additional reporting by Kayla Greaves.
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