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What does castor oil do for your skin? What the research says

This vegetable oil has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-microbial properties.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 21, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
Castor Oil with Castor Fruits, Seeds, and Leaf
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 21, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is castor oil?
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You may have heard of castor oil being used to induce labor—or as a laxative, which is currently its only FDA-approved function.¹ And yet, you can also find castor oil in a variety of serums, oils, and creams that can be used on your skin. Many of these products claim that it can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve oily skin. But what does the research say?

Here, we’ll deep-dive into everything you need to know about castor oil, including its potential benefits and any possible downsides, so you can decide for yourself if you’d like to give this skincare ingredient a try.

What is castor oil?

Castor oil is a vegetable oil that comes from pressed castor beans, which grow on a caster oil plant called Ricinus communis.² Over 90% of the world’s castor oil exports come from western India, although the plant is sometimes cultivated in the U.S. and South America as well. It’s currently the only commercial crop containing hydroxylated fatty acids, so it’s a valuable oil.³

By the time castor oil makes its way into a skincare product, it’s typically colorless and odorless because it’s been refined and bleached—unlike crude castor oil, which is light yellow and has a smell. If it’s not exposed to high temperatures, it can last for up to a year on the shelf.⁴

As we mentioned, the only FDA-approved usage for castor oil is as a laxative. However, it’s been deployed since the 16th century BC to help lower cholesterol, improve liver function, reduce pain, and lubricate dry eyes.⁵ It’s safe for human consumption, in case you accidentally get a little in your mouth, and has been shown to have minimal toxic effects.⁶ 

So what does that mean for those of us interested in using it on our skin? Castor oil is full of fatty acids, specifically ricinoleic (which makes up most of its fatty acid content), linoleic (also known as omega-6), oleic, stearic, and linolenic.⁷ Fatty acids and other lipids are commonly found in moisturizing products meant to hydrate your skin and maintain a healthy skin barrier—and ricinoleic acid is typically used as a moisturizing or stabilizing ingredient in cosmetic products.⁸

Is castor oil good for your skin?

We know you can commonly find fatty acids like ricinoleic acid in moisturizing products—but what can castor oil specifically do for your skin? Here’s what the research says.

It’s an antioxidant that may help fight inflammation

Castor oil is a free radical scavenger, meaning it can act as an antioxidant.⁹ Free radical scavengers can stop or remove reactive oxygen species before they damage your cells.¹⁰ Some of the primary antioxidants in castor oil are tocopherols,¹¹ also known as vitamin E. The ingredient has higher amounts of vitamin E than olive, hazelnut, and sunflower oil. But, castor oil also boasts anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it’s been used medicinally to treat several minor diseases.¹²

It has antimicrobial properties

Research shows that the fatty acids in castor oil have antimicrobial properties.¹³ Because of castor oil’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities, research shows it can help reduce the appearance of pimples.¹⁴ It may help to pair castor oil-infused products with an antimicrobial cleanser that shuts down persistent pimples, like the Acne Cleanser

It can increase skin softness

Because of its fatty acids, castor oil can help improve your skin’s smoothness and softness.¹⁵ In the same vein, another plant-based oil called squalane, featured in The Rich Moisturizer, can increase skin smoothness and softness while locking in moisture.

It can hydrate your skin

Research shows that castor oil can moisturize, hydrate, and even cleanse your skin. And that’s not all—it can also bolster healthy skin tissue and pores.¹⁶ Castor oil is part of the occlusive category of moisturizing ingredients, meaning it forms a barrier over your skin to reduce transepidermal water loss and help combat dry skin. Other examples of occlusives include coconut oil, beeswax, and mineral oil.¹⁷

It may help soothe dandruff

We know that castor oil is a moisturizing ingredient—but the effects don’t have to stop at your face. This occlusive can also help moisturize your scalp, soothe dandruff, and even promote hair growth.¹⁸ 

Are there any downsides to using castor oil?

While castor oil is a soothing moisturizer that can help fight inflammation, it can have notable potential downsides you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about adding it to your skincare routine. Below are a few that may occur if you accidentally consume a little castor oil by accident.

  • You may want to avoid it if you’re pregnant. While it may still be safe to use in skincare products, consuming it accidentally can cause premature contractions.¹⁹

  • One study showed that potential side effects included nausea and diarrhea, although the subjects in question were pregnant and the oil was being used to help induce labor.²⁰ 

  • When used as a laxative, castor oil may cause abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, fainting, and insomnia.²¹ Again, this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re using it for cosmetic purposes, but it’s helpful to be aware of the potential side effects of ingesting it. 

If you keep your product only on the surface of your skin, the reported side effects are minimal. In some cases, castor oil in lipstick led to reported allergic contact dermatitis, and it can be a mild to severe skin irritant.²² Before trying any product with this ingredient, it’s helpful to do a patch test to find out if it will irritate your skin. 

Tips for using castor oil on your skin

If you want to start incorporating castor oil into your skincare routine, it’s always beneficial to consult a licensed dermatology provider (like those at Curology!) ahead of time. They can answer any questions you may have about new ingredients. But in general, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when using castor oil.

  • You may want to dilute it with an oil of your choice, such as sunflower, argan, jojoba or hemp oil—just not coconut oil.. It can be sticky on its own, which may be unpleasant when applying to your skin.

  • In the same vein, start by just using a little castor oil since it’s so thick.

  • If you don’t want to use it straight, look for castor oil as an ingredient in serums, oils, and creams.

And as always, with any new skincare ingredient, make sure to patch test it before regular use.

Find the right ingredients for your skin

The benefits of castor oil can potentially be game-changing for your skin, especially if it needs moisture, an antimicrobial, and an anti-inflammatory. However, this plant-based ingredient may not work for everyone.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To find out which ingredients may be effective for your unique skin, reach out to the pros! When you sign up with Curology, you’ll get paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who can answer any questions about skincare ingredients you may have. And within three days of sign-up, your provider will complete your personalized treatment plan. To get started, unlock your offer* today.

FAQs

Is castor oil good for the skin?

Everyone’s skin is different! But, castor oil may have a few potentially positive effects on your skin, including:

  • It’s anti-inflammatory

  • It’s an antimicrobial

  • It’s an antioxidant

  • It can soften skin

  • It can promote healthy skin tissue

Can I apply castor oil on my face?

Generally speaking, yes. However, you may want to dilute it with a carrier oil first, as it can be sticky by itself.

Can you leave castor oil on your face overnight?

Generally speaking, yes. But watch for signs of irritation and do a patch test on your skin before doing so to check for any potential reactions.

What are the negative effects of castor oil on the skin?

It depends on the person. In some cases, castor oil in lipstick led to reported allergic contact dermatitis, and it can be a mild to severe skin irritant. It’s always beneficial to do a patch test before fully trying any new skincare ingredient.

Is castor oil too heavy for my face?

You can apply castor oil on your face, although you may want to dilute it with a carrier oil first. To find out if it’s too heavy for your unique skin, reach out to a professional like the licensed dermatology providers at Curology.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Alookaran, J. and Tripp, J. Castor Oil. StatPearls. (2022, November 21).

  2. Patel, V.R., et al. Castor Oil: Properties, Uses, and Optimization of Processing Parameters in Commercial Production. Lipid Insights. (2016, September 7).

  3. Patel, V.R., et al. Castor Oil: Properties, Uses, and Optimization of Processing Parameters in Commercial Production. Lipid Insights. Ibid.

  4. Patel, V.R., et al. Castor Oil: Properties, Uses, and Optimization of Processing Parameters in Commercial Production. Lipid Insights. Ibid.

  5. Kennedy, D.A. and Keaton, D. Evidence for the Topical Application of Castor Oil. International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. (2012, March 13).

  6. Alookaran, J. and Tripp, J. Castor Oil. StatPearls. Ibid.

  7. Patel, V.R., et al. Castor Oil: Properties, Uses, and Optimization of Processing Parameters in Commercial Production. Lipid Insights. Ibid.

  8. Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final report on the safety assessment of Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Glyceryl Ricinoleate, Glyceryl Ricinoleate SE, Ricinoleic Acid, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Zinc Ricinoleate, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Ethyl Ricinoleate, Glycol Ricinoleate, Isopropyl Ricinoleate, Methyl Ricinoleate, and Octyldodecyl Ricinoleate. Int J Toxicol. (2007, n.d.). 

  9. Iqbal, J., et al. Antioxidant, Antimicrobial, and Free Radical Scavenging Potential of Aerial Parts of Periploca aphylla and Ricinus communis. ISRN Pharmacol. (2012, July 11).

  10. Hatwalne, M.S. Free radical scavengers in anaesthesiology and critical care. Indian J Anaesth. (May-June 2012).

  11. Yeboah, A., et al. Castor oil (Ricinus communis): a review on the chemical composition and physicochemical properties. Food Sci Technol. (2021, n.d.). 

  12. Yeboah, A., et al. Castor oil (Ricinus communis): a review on the chemical composition and physicochemical properties. Food Sci Technol. Ibid.

  13. Bezerra, H.V.A., et al. Effect of Castor and Cashew Nut Shell Oils, Selenium and Vitamin E as Antioxidants on the Health and Meat Stability of Lambs Fed a High-Concentrate Diet. Antioxidants. (2020, November 11).

  14. Goyal, A., et al. Bioactive-Based Cosmeceuticals: An Update on Emerging Trends. Molecules. (February 2022). 

  15. Goyal, A., et al. Bioactive-Based Cosmeceuticals: An Update on Emerging Trends. Molecules. Ibid.

  16. Goyal, A., et al. Bioactive-Based Cosmeceuticals: An Update on Emerging Trends. Molecules. Ibid.

  17. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022, August 21).

  18. Goyal, A., et al. Bioactive-Based Cosmeceuticals: An Update on Emerging Trends. Molecules. Ibid.

  19. Alookaran, J. and Tripp, J. Castor Oil. StatPearls. Ibid.

  20. Amerizadeh, A., et al. Effect and Safety of Castor Oil on Labor Induction and Prevalence of Vaginal Delivery: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

     Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. (July-August 2022).

  21. Sani, K.G., et al. A Comparison of the Efficacy, Adverse Effects, and Patient Compliance of the Sena-Graph®Syrup and Castor Oil Regimens for Bowel Preparation. Iran J Pharm Res. (Spring 2010). 

  22. PubChem. Compound Summary - Castor Oil. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.).

Camille Dixon is a certified Physician Assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Camille Dixon, PA-C

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