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Castor oil comeback

Reading time: 17 minutes

An old medical staple is being revived on social media. Celeste McGovern investigates the healing powers of the golden elixir of castor oil

It’s strange how medicine sometimes changes—how items once considered so essential that they were part of every doctor’s black bag and every household medicine cabinet are suddenly forgotten, jettisoned for the promises of new pharmaceuticals.

Toss the old mainstay out the door, however, and it finds its way into the window, suddenly becoming popular again. But on its return, the modern purveyors of pills demonize it, labeling it dangerous.

That’s the story of ancient castor oil, derived from the castor plant and sometimes called the “palm of Christ” for its ability to heal wounds and cure ailments. One of the first cultivated crops in human history, the nontoxic oil of the castor bean has been around for thousands of years.

It’s used in Ayurvedic medicine and in folk medicine from Ancient Greece to the Aztec civilization to treat everything from constipation to migraines to skin rashes. In ancient Egypt, it was part of the beauty regime of Cleopatra, who is said to have used it to gloss her hair and brighten the whites of her eyes.

Up until the last 50 years or so, the sticky, light-yellow oil was a basic medical elixir used to treat stomach problems, to induce labor in pregnant women and more.

“Castor oil is such a common and well-known remedy that it would seem that but little could be written with regard to its employment in medicine,” wrote Dr L. Duncan Bulkley in a paper that was read aloud at the 1885 meeting of the American Medical Association. “Everyone is thoroughly acquainted with its characters, dosage and use, and even the laity appreciate its value and employ it freely without medical advice.”1

With the pharmaceutical revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, castor oil all but vanished from mainstream medicine, though studies revealed the mechanisms of its prior uses as a laxative and its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties—even for the induction of labor.2

Recently, castor oil has been having something of a revival—in the social media world at least. TikTokkers are extolling the detox and hormonal benefits of putting the sticky oil in their belly buttons and wearing castor oil packs over their livers as they sleep.

In the beauty realm, YouTube influencers are raving about “nature’s Botox” and the hydrated glow castor oil gives to aging skin. They claim it can grow eyebrows like Brooke Shields’ and lengthen eyelashes, rapidly fade scars, and diminish, if not eradicate, every recalcitrant lump, bump, mole or skin tag.

In the gym world, it’s getting traction for its effects on stiff joints, sore muscles and stubborn conditions like plantar fasciitis.

Not so over in conventional medicine, however. “There’s just no need to use castor oil for anything related to your health and wellness,” says family physician Dr Kevin Hopkins on the webpage of the stoic Cleveland Clinic. “For every instance in which social media users claim you can use castor oil, there are other, scientifically proven methods that work better and are safer.”3

But is that so? If modern pharmaceuticals are so much better, why are people even looking to old remedies like castor oil for solutions? Is this ancient oil more dangerous than contemporary drugs for the same conditions?

Here are some of the top ways castor oil is making a comeback.

For constipation

Constipation affects up to 30 percent of children4 and older adults, and adult women are affected twice as often as men. Nowadays, one in 10 older adults and half of nursing home residents report using a daily laxative, but in a large survey nearly half said they were not satisfied with their treatment, mostly because they felt it didn’t work well (82 percent) or wasn’t safe (16 percent).5

The use of the castor plant to get things moving dates to more than 3,500 years ago in the famous Papyrus Ebers from ancient Egypt, which indicates castor fruit and beer for “intestinal emptying.”6 Its efficacy as a laxative was so well known that Italian fascist ruler Benito Mussolini infamously had political dissidents force-fed excessive quantities of the oil to induce humiliating dehydration and diarrhea during beatings.

Well into the 20th century, castor oil was the go-to laxative. Today many adults, especially from cultures like India, where it is prized, recall being given it a few times a year during childhood as a preventive.

The US Food and Drug Administration maintains its approval of castor oil as a general laxative for the temporary relief of constipation. It usually recommends 15–60 mL for adults and 5–15 mL for children over age six with juice or water, for no more than one week at a time. It warns that castor oil should not be taken by people with the following conditions:

  • Pregnancy (it can induce contractions)
  • Age under six
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Strong and sudden stomach pain
  • Symptoms of appendicitis
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Vomiting

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr Hopkins is dismissive. “Physicians haven’t really recommended castor oil for constipation for over 50 years,” he says, “because there are much better options,” such as polyethylene glycol.

Polyethylene glycol, in drugs like MiraLAX and GlycoLax, has a list of side effects including the ones that doctors usually warn about for excessive castor oil consumption, such as nausea, diarrhea and allergic reactions.

Other popular laxatives, such as Dulcolax (bisacodyl), are rated poorly by nearly half of users. Their descriptions of its effects include “the most intense painful experience, “vomiting,” “explosive diarrhea,” “excruciating pain” and “raging migraine.”7

For those unsure about taking castor oil by mouth, topical application may have milder effects on constipation. A study conducted at two rest homes in Manisa, Turkey, tested the effects of using a castor oil pack (a flannel soaked in castor oil and rested across the abdomen with a hot water bottle placed on top) for one hour for three consecutive days.

Most of the 35 participants had been constipated for 10 years or longer. Castor oil administration did not affect the number of bowel movements but improved symptoms of constipation. It softened stool, reduced straining during defecation and increased the reported feeling of complete emptying after a bowel movement.8

For arthritis

More than 80 percent of adults over age 55 have radiological evidence of osteoarthritis, usually involving the knees, hips or hands. Knee osteoarthritis is the leading cause of chronic disability among the elderly in the United States.

Since arthritis is joint inflammation, it seems reasonable that castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties might alleviate its symptoms, which is why so many people have used it to ease joint pain.

“I was scheduled for knee replacement last week but started using castor oil with a few drops of frankincense and helichrysum on my knees and hips at the new year,” valeden4725 commented recently on YouTube. “The pain is gone, and I canceled the surgery. I am amazed. I was walking with a cane and now I am not needing it.”

“I did have total knee replacement on my left knee a year ago with OK results,” replied elizabethwhite196. She described the surgery as “brutal,” however, so when her other knee started to hurt, she decided to give castor oil a try. “My knees feel so much better! Wondering now in hindsight if my [other knee] surgery was even necessary.”

Some people rub 100 percent pure castor bean oil onto their arthritic hands and cover them with cotton gloves before sleeping. Others like to use castor oil packs with heat on sore joints (see the section about castor oil packs, below)

In one double-blind randomized comparative clinical study published in 2009, patients consuming castor oil were compared to those taking diclofenac sodium, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) widely prescribed for patients with knee osteoarthritis.

The researchers administered treatments to people with symptoms of knee osteoarthritis three times daily for four weeks: 50 people took a castor oil capsule (0.9 mL), and 50 others took a diclofenac sodium capsule (50 mg). All the participants were evaluated for symptom relief and side effects at two and four weeks using clinical exams, laboratory tests and x-rays.

At the end of the treatment, both groups saw significantly reduced symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, including pain. Adverse drug reactions were high in the diclofenac sodium group, however—20 percent of patients complained of mild gastritis and 4 percent complained of skin rashes.

But there were no reported side effects at all in the castor oil group, leading the researchers to conclude that “castor oil can be used as an effective therapy in primary knee osteoarthritis.”9

Since that study, more research has shown that diclofenac also carries high risks of cardiovascular events. A 2018 study reported that in patients taking diclofenac, the increased risk was 20 percent for heartbeat irregularities, 60 percent for ischemic stroke, 70 percent for heart failure, 90 percent for heart attack, and 70 percent for cardiac death compared with those who didn’t take the drug.

The study also found that patients treated with diclofenac had a 4.5 times higher risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding at 30 days compared with those taking no drug.10

Tip: Test to see if you are allergic before applying castor oil on your joints. Try it on an inconspicuous place like your inner elbow before applying more.

For eye problems

There are hundreds of claims on the internet that castor oil is healing for dry eyes, that it lengthens eyelashes, eliminates undereye bags and heals itchy, inflamed eyelids. Some people even claim it has helped clear their cataracts, eye floaters and other eye conditions.

“I used to have dry eyes due to working nights,” said one commenter, sidrasiddiqui1852. “Started applying castor oil on my eyelids. Huge difference only after one application. So, so soothing for the eyes.”

“Helped my eye floaters, which were severe,” remarked KB-yg4rb. “My ophthalmologist said there wasn’t any treatment. My eyes aren’t perfect, but it’s only been a week and to see any improvement is amazing.”

One woman said she suffers with the rare autoimmune disease acute posterior multifocal placoid pigment epitheliopathy (APMPPE), which left her with scars across the retina in both eyes, blind in her left eye, and with dark spots that block her vision in her right eye.

She started putting drops of 100 percent pure cold-pressed castor oil in her eyes at night for extreme dry eye. “So, after the first night, in the morning, I could swear I was seeing things more crisply, with more refined sharp edges! My eyes felt soothed and comfortable! No dryness! After several days now, I am most certain it is affecting my scars. They are slowly lightening!”

Another commenter, brentcowan8077, said using castor oil for a year “totally cleared my cataracts and floaters,” and as a “side benefit,” a skin tag he’d had on his lower eyelid for more than 30 years disappeared.

There is no research to support or dismiss these claims about eye floaters and cataracts, says Dr Joseph Allen. He’s an optometrist at the Pinecone Vision Center in Sartell, Minnesota, and the founder of Doctor Eye Health (, an educational YouTube channel. Since castor oil is known to be anti-inflammatory and a prostaglandin analog like some glaucoma eye medications, its benefits are plausible.

When it comes to dry eye and blepharitis, a common condition that can cause painfully tender and sensitive eyelids, some recent studies support castor oil therapy.

“The reason that castor oil works for dry eye is because it helps prevent the tear film on the surface of the eye from evaporating into the air, and it acts as an extra lubrication for the top eyelid to not rub so hard on the eyeball itself,” he says.

In a 2002 study, 20 patients with obstructive meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)—a major cause of dry eye—were randomly split into two groups to receive low-concentration 2 percent castor oil drops or a placebo for two-week periods.

“One thing I loved about this study is that they showed images of how irregular the tear film was before treatment on the left side,” says Dr Allen, “and then how stable and better the tear film looked on the right side after treatment with castor oil” (see image, below).

A treat for the eyes: A patient’s eye after the placebo trial (left) versus after castor oil treatment (right).

First row, above: Tear interference, a measure of how lipids are distributed across the eye, preventing evaporation of tears. Placebo treatment (left) leaves a variety of colors and an irregular pattern similar to an oil slick. This uneven layer of lipids contributes to eye dryness. With castor oil (right), the lack of colors and greater pattern regularity indicate more even lipid distribution.

Second row, above: Tear breakup time (TBT), a measure of how quickly dry spots appear in the tear fluid layer on the eyeball’s surface, performed using fluorescein dye—10 seconds is considered normal. After placebo treatment (left), the tear layer breaks up within less than 5 seconds on average, while it remains intact for an average of 12 seconds after castor oil treatment (right).

Third row, above: Rose bengal staining, an indicator of abnormalities in the tear film, performed using rose bengal dye. After placebo treatment (left), extensive speckled red staining appears across the lower third of the iris, while the image after castor oil treatment (right) shows much less staining, indicating fewer abnormalities.

After treatment with the diluted castor oil, the patients had fewer symptoms of dry eye but evidence of a more stable tear film and less MGD, which is significant since so many people struggle with clogged oil glands in their eyelids. They also suffered no side effects.11

The castor oil used in the study was a very weak dilution, and Dr Allen cautions against applying straight castor oil directly to the eye because it has been found to be toxic to cells of the membrane covering the white part of the eye, which can lead to irritation.12 Also, the thickness of the oil blurs vision, and there’s a risk of eye infection if the oil is not sterile.

Rather than using castor oil directly in the eye, use it on the lids and lash line or look for commercial eye drops that contain it.

Some research has shown benefits of 100 percent castor oil applied topically to eyelids. In a study published in 2021, researchers at the New Zealand National Eye Centre at the University of Auckland had 26 participants with clinical signs of blepharitis—inflammation of the eyelid—apply a 100 percent cold-pressed castor oil formulation to the eyelids, just outside the lash line of one eye (randomized), twice daily for four weeks.

They saw not only improvements in blepharitis in the castor oil–treated participants but also a reduction of eyelid thickness, reduced spider veins on the surface of the eyelid, reduced loss of eyelashes and eyelash crusting, and reduced friction between the eyelid and eyeball.13

“I’ve been using castor oil on my eyelid for about two months,” katiebursey7005 commented. “I felt like there were improvements with vision and dry eyes.” At a recent eye checkup, her optician looked at her previous file and confirmed the improvements.

“I have been dealing with eyelid dermatitis, primarily on the right side, for well over a year now,” commented jessicasparks5319. “It would get better, then worse again, but never completely go away. My right eyelid always looked dry and crusty, especially with eyeshadow.

“Well, after about three days using castor oil, the dermatitis has completely disappeared! I have used prescription steroid creams intermittently for over a year with nowhere near these results and without the side effects, such as skin thinning. I have also been using all over my face at night and I can honestly say my skin looks amazing!”

In a 2023 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, researchers asked 25 patients with dark hyperpigmentation under their eyes to apply a topical cream of 10 percent castor oil in water twice daily under their eyes for two months. Not only did the participants notice the darkness under their eyes decrease significantly, but a dermatology assessment showed a reduction in wrinkles around the eyes and firmer skin after using the castor oil cream.14

Smooth and light: One patient’s undereye area before and after application of castor oil cream.

For skin conditions

Heaps of anecdotal evidence show people raving about how castor oil banishes their scars, stretch marks and wrinkles. It locks in moisture, they say, and clears up acne, eczema, skin tags and warts.

Dermatologist Anil Rajani, a specialist in minimally invasive cosmetic services in Portland, Oregon, calls it “nature’s Botox” because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and moisturizing properties. It’s about 90 percent ricinoleic acid, a proven anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acid, along with other fatty acids and vitamin E.

“It’s a very thick oil, but it just doesn’t cause acne” because of its antibacterial properties, Rajani tells his social media fans. “It will not clog your pores.”

“Castor oil transformed my face,” remarked annaskyy6476 on Dr Rajani’s YouTube channel. “I had serious hormonal acne at ages 25–28 when I found a video years ago about castor oil for the face. I tried it because I was running out of hope and was ready to try anything.

“It not only cured my acne, but my dermatologist is also stunned how I don’t even have acne scarring as a residual from how bad it was. I also followed up after the shower with real aloe vera from a leaf in my fridge and left that gel overnight on my face.”

Dr Rajani says the anti-inflammatory properties of castor oil are also why it helps with swelling and puffiness and why so many people claim it helps with sunspots, skin tags, moles and warts.

The star feature of castor oil for skin is its moisturizing ability. “It’s astonishingly effective as an emollient and it plumps like filler and removes wrinkles like Botox, anywhere the skin is thinnest. Sometimes they will disappear as quickly as with Botox.”

“I’m kind of shocked that I have gone 55 years without realizing that this is perhaps the greatest stuff on the planet,” says Chalene Johnson, who has a YouTube channel geared to mature women, “especially if you are a woman over 40 and you are dealing with dry skin.”

She says she has ditched most of her other skin products except sun cream after castor oil calmed redness, eliminated blotches and smoothed her skin in days. “I just can’t believe how much better my skin looks after using it.”

Castor oil is often combined with zinc oxide to treat infant diaper rash. It’s a common ingredient in lipsticks and lip balms. Castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties may also soothe a sunburn, especially if applied with aloe vera (see ‘Sunburn soother’ recipe, below).

Allergic reactions do occur in some people, so Dr Rajani advises always testing a small, inconspicuous area, like behind the ear, first. It’s also important to look for high-quality castor oil with the following features:

  • 100 percent organic to exclude pesticides and herbicides
  • Dark glass bottle to prevent plastic leaching into the oil and oxidation by light
  • Hexane-free because this chemical used in extraction is neurotoxic and can irritate skin
  • Cold-pressed because other extraction processes may denature ingredients

Store it away from heat and light for best performance.

For hair growth and luster

One of the most popular uses of castor oil is to increase hair growth and shine. This use dates to ancient Egypt, where Cleopatra is said to have applied it to her hair.

At least one study has shown that castor oil increases hair luster as well.15

Lots of people swear by it for hair growth. “I had lost 90 percent of my hair. I started using castor oil mixed with olive oil and egg yolk and left it on for two hours and rinsed it off after,” remarked kallobar6087. “Amazing results. My hair grew immediately, and I use it once a week. Highly recommend.”

A big caution when using castor or any other oil treatment in the hair, however: Never vigorously rub oily hair or rinse it with hot water. In one published case report, a South Indian woman’s long hair, which she had treated with a mixture of coconut oil and castor oil, became a hard, tangled mass resembling a bird’s nest. There was no remedy, and she had to cut her hip-length hair off at her ears.16

This sudden “felting” of hair—like that process used in the wool industry—occurred in another case in which a hairdresser applied a coconut cream pack to the entire scalp. Researchers determined that it was the vigorous rubbing of the hair in hot soapy water that caused the hair to suddenly mat.17

Tip: If you put castor oil on your head or in your hair, use a tiny amount rubbed in your hands and leave in like a pomade for shine, or use cool to lukewarm water to rinse, and do it gently.

For brows and lashes

Since ricinoleic acid in castor oil has been shown to stimulate prostaglandin PGE2, which can trigger hair growth, there is a mechanism to explain the claims that castor oil grows eyebrows and lashes. The prescription eyelash growth product Latisse works in the same way, for example.

Dr Rajani suggests buying small glass mascara bottles with wands and filling these with castor oil. Then use a small liner brush to follow the lash line without getting the oil in the eyes, and use a mascara brush to apply it to the brows.

Castor oil packs

Castor oil packs date back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians treated headaches by applying a compress soaked in the oil.

Nowadays, specialized castor oil packs are available online and in health stores. They’re made from organic materials with leakproof outer layers and adjustable belts, but many people just soak a clean organic cloth (an old baby flannel or cotton cloth diaper works well) in a glass jar or baking dish of castor oil until saturated, then place it on the abdomen (or affected joints, etc.).

Cover with some plastic wrap or just wear an old T-shirt (the oil is sticky and stains), and place a heat source like a hot water bottle on top if you like.

Placing it on the right side of the abdomen is thought to help support the liver and digestive system. One small double-blind study of 36 healthy individuals looked at the impact on white blood cell counts as a measure of immune function before and after applying castor oil packs.

After the packs were left on for at least two hours, they produced a “significant” temporary increase in the number of T-11 cells, which indicates the castor oil application boosted the body’s immune system defense.18

Packs for fibroids, sore joints and belly fat

Toronto naturopath Dr Janine Bowring ( recommends castor oil packs for uterine fibroids, although only when not menstruating. Some women find them helpful for menstrual pains and endometriosis as well.

Dr Bowring suggests using castor oil with essential oils on the abdomen to help melt belly fat as follows:


10 drops Grapefruit essential oil
1 drop Ylang Ylang essential oil
¼ cup castor oil


  1. In a glass bowl, mix oils thoroughly.
  2. Rub clockwise around your stomach with the oil (15 circles).
  3. Place castor oil pack on your belly and wrap with plastic or a wide belt to keep in place for 45 minutes minimum. Repeat three or four times per week and leave it on as you sleep if you prefer.

Packs or even a soaked sanitary napkin can be placed on sore joints, and a cotton reusable nursing pad soaked with castor oil is the perfect size for treating a heel affected by plantar fasciitis. Cover it with a sock and leave it on for an hour or so, or wear it to bed.

Foot soak

The following recipe from uses castor oil and Epsom salts to help draw out toxins while relaxing and invigorating overworked feet.


1 cup Epsom salts
½ cup baking soda
½ cup castor oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a glass bowl or jar. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to use.
  2. Add ½ cup of the mixture to a tub or basin filled with warm water. Soak feet for 20–30 minutes.

Sunburn soother

Apply this mixture to sunburned skin to tame inflammation, promote healing and minimize peeling.


¼ cup aloe vera gel
1 Tbsp castor oil
1 tsp liquid lecithin
10 drops lavender essential oil


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl or glass jar.
  2. Apply to sunburned skin as needed. Gently massage into the skin until absorbed.
  3. Repeat as necessary. Store in a cool, dark place.

Undereye brightener

The combination of castor oil and vitamin E oil in this recipe from helps to minimize the appearance of dark circles.


3–4 drops castor oil
2–3 drops vitamin E oil


  1. In a bowl, combine the two ingredients and mix well.
  2. Use your fingertips to apply the mixture below the eyes and massage gently, taking care not to get the oil in your eyes.
  3. Leave on overnight and rinse off well the next morning.
  4. Use daily at bedtime for best results.

Five organic castor oil products

Joanna Evans has tracked down five castor oil products that are all 100 percent organic, hexane-free and cold-pressed, and they all come in a dark glass bottle to prevent plastic from leaching into the oil and to minimize damage from sunlight.

If you prefer shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, check out your local health food store.

Organic Castor Oil, $13.00/£9.95 (8.5 fl oz/250 mL)

Fushi’s castor oil is cold pressed from only the freshest castor seeds, certified organic by the Soil Association and food grade, so it’s safe to take internally. It’s also a great value and can be purchased as a monthly subscription for a 10 percent saving.

Pura D’or
Organic Castor Oil, $14.99/£12.46 (4 fl oz / 118 mL)
US:; UK:

Certified USDA organic, this oil is available in two sizes, but only the smaller bottle is glass. If you buy direct from the company, it comes with two handy applicator bottles so you can easily apply the oil to eyelashes and brows.

Enhanced Health
Organic Castor Oil, $17.00/£12.50 (8.5 fl oz / 250 mL)

Castor oil pack specialist Enhanced Health offers castor oil on its own or as part of a kit that includes everything you need to get started using castor oil packs. There are also handy tutorials on the website.

Heritage Store
Organic Castor Oil, $19.99/£15.42 (16 fl oz / 473 mL)
US:; UK:

Available in two sizes, this castor oil is certified to the USDA organic standard. Heritage Store also offers castor oil capsules, a castor oil serum, and wool and cotton flannels for use as part of a castor oil pack.

Forest & Shore
Organic Castor Oil, £7.99 (60 mL)

Beautifully packaged in a premium-looking bottle and box, this castor oil comes with two reusable bamboo applicator brushes to apply the oil to lashes and brows. Castor oil also features in the brand’s Thrive Hair Oil, along with a blend of other nourishing plant oils.

What do you think? Start a conversation over on the... WDDTY Community

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