Castor oil is an oil that many are familiar with because their parents or grandparents swore by it as a treatment for numerous ills. In many ways, your parents were actually right, and castor oil is a very useful and powerful treatment. It is a versatile carrier oil too, which can be used to dilute other, equally powerful essential oils.
The History of Castor Oil
Castor oil’s history dates back thousands of years. Castor beans have even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs that are thought to date back as far as 4000 B.C., and there are texts from 1500 B.C. where Egyptian doctors describe using castor oil to protect the eyes, and also for facial oils.1 More recently, it has been used medicinally in the USA. The early pioneers would mix castor oil and alcohol and use it as a laxative. Castor oil was also used externally as a poultice.
The castor plant is native to East Africa, and in particular the Ethiopian regions. It is now grown in a wide range of tropical and warmer temperate regions worldwide. Indeed it has become a weed in some parts of the USA, because it is able to grow so well in warmer areas.
The Chemical Makeup of Castor Oil
Castor oil has a unique chemical makeup, and it is used for a wide range of purposes. Many people assume that the primary use of the oil would be medicinal, but this actually accounts for just 8% of its commercial uses. Indeed, it is more commonly used for sulfonated oils (25%), artificial leather (20%), lacquers (10%), lubrication (17%) and other miscellaneous uses.2
Castor oil is produced from castor beans, and it consists for primarily (as much as 90%) ricinoleic acid, with the remainder being 4% linoleic acid, 3% oleic acid, 1% stearic acid, and less than 1% linoleic fatty acid. The high content of ricinoleic acid is what makes it so useful in the chemical industry.3
What can Castor Oil Be Used For
Castor oil may not be the most glamorous of the essential oils but it is a very versatile one. Here are a few of the main uses for castor carrier oil.
Treating Skin Issues
Castor oil can be useful for helping to treat skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema. It works as a natural antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal agent, and it can help to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system as well.4 Using castor oil topically can help to heal dry, irritated skin, promote better healing of burns, and diminish the dark spots or scars caused by acne. It is a powerful healing agent and it is one that can help to stave off the effects of aging. It even helps to increase the production of collagen and elastin.
One of the more practical benefits of castor oil is that it can be used to help relieve constipation. Castor oil acts as a mild laxative if it is taken internally.5 The active ingredient in castor oil is ricinoleic acid, and when this breaks down in the intestine it helps to speed up digestion, ensuring more regular bowel movements. Some people combine castor oil with apple cider vinegar to help to promote bowel regularity. With more frequent bowel movements, people tend to benefit from the elimination of bad bacteria from the small intestine, which allows good gut bacteria to grow back in their place, promoting further improvements in gut health.6
Treating Foot Infections
Athlete’s foot and other fingernail and toenail infections can be treated with castor oil. It is useful for removing fungal infections, cysts, and moles. Studies have shown that castor oil has fungicidal properties.7 One common home remedy is to combine castor oil and baking soda and rub that onto the affected area, or alternatively to soak your feet into apple cider vinegar and then soak your feet in baking soda. The theory here is that apple cider vinegar will kill the fungus, and the baking soda will then help to prevent any remaining fungus from spreading, while the body’s immune system kills it off. When it is taken orally, castor oil can help to stop the fungus and bacteria that would normally cause infections from taking hold.
Promoting Healthy Hair
Castor oil contains some omega-6 fatty acids, but in a smaller quantity than other popular carrier oils. This is good because omega-6 fatty acids play an important role in nutrition, including the health of your hair and scalp, but excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids could increase your risk of heart disease.8 In small quantities, omega-6 can improve the health of your hair and reduce the appearance of dandruff and other skin issues. Castor oil can be used as a leave-in hair conditioner, and then left to sit in the hair overnight, and washed out in the morning. It will nourish the hair, and make it look thicker and stronger. Some people report that their hair grows quicker when they use castor oil. It is possible that if someone were deficient in one of the fatty acids, they may see some benefit in terms of improved follicle health. Topical application of some fatty acids has indeed been linked with improved hair growth, but castor oil will not help someone who is suffering from, say, male pattern baldness to get their hair back.9
Boosting The Immune System
Castor oil has a lot of benefits in terms of improving the immune system. It can help to promote better blood flow, lymphatic drainage, and thymus gland health. It is often mixed with apple cider vinegar to enhance the effects. Castor oil contains ricinoleic acid, which can regulate the immune response by acting as an inhibitor of Ca²⁺ signal-mediated cell cycle regulation.10 Most of these benefits are ones that would be most noticeable if the oil is taken orally. Castor oil by itself does not taste great, but it can be mixed with apple cider vinegar to take away the oily taste, and if some honey is added as well to sweeten the taste then it is much easier to tolerate. A small ‘shot’ each day is enough to offer benefits.
Castor oil can help to boost the circulatory system when it is used topically in the form of a ‘castor oil pack’. To make a castor oil pack, soak a cloth in castor oil, and place it on the skin. Place a sheet of plastic on top of the cloth, and then a hot water bottle over the plastic. The idea is that the heat will draw blood to the area that the pack is resting on, which will improve circulation to that area. The castor oil will soak through the skin and be absorbed into the bloodstream. Castor oil packs are touted as being a solution to sore muscles, constipation, abdominal pain, digestive disorders and more. Modern day research into castor oil packs is limited, but there is at least one recent study which shows that castor oil packs can have a beneficial effect on controlling the effects of constipation.11
The anti-inflammatory effect of the fatty acids in castor oil is something which can be hugely beneficial both for skin treatments and for treating chronic pain such as that of arthritis. This is another reason that castor packs prove popular. Both the castor oil and the heat from the pack can help to reduce the pain of arthritis.
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Studies show that topical application of ricinoleic acid, which is one of the main ingredients in castor oil, can have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.12 This means that it can be useful for treating a number of acute conditions and could be beneficial for the management of diagnosed chronic conditions.
Essential Oils that Castor Oil Goes With
The benefits of castor oil are clear, but how can you enhance those benefits with essential oils? Well, there are many options when it comes to essential oils that you can add to castor carrier oil. The oils that you choose will depend on both your personal preferences in terms of scents, and the oils that you feel offer the best results for the condition that you are trying to treat.
If you are a woman looking to achieve hormone balance and use essential oils to manage menstrual symptoms or enhance your fertility, then consider the following:
Ylang-ylang is a relaxing oil that can help to regulate mood and alleviate depression.13 Lavender essential oil is also helpful for balancing mood.14 Geranium has been found to be estrogenic, which makes it particularly beneficial for women looking for a way to cope with the menopause or manage PMS symptoms.15
Strengthen Your Nails
If you want to strengthen weak nails, then consider mixing 1 teaspoon of wheat germ oil with 2 teaspoons of castor oil and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add some scented essential oil if you wish, but only a drop or two. Mix the ingredients together well, and store in a sealed container. Shake the blend well before using it. To use, simply dispense a little of the mixture onto your finger, and rub it into your nails. Leave the mixture on your nails for five minutes, then wash your hands.
You may also benefit from massaging raw castor oil into your nails and cuticles at night before going to bed, to keep your nails nice and strong.
If you want to keep your hair looking thick and strong, try making the following leave-in conditioner or hair rinse:
Tea tree oil is antimicrobial and will help to kill off any nasty bacteria and keep your hair nice and healthy.16 The castor oil and coconut oil will both nourish your hair and moisturize your scalp, helping to stave off dandruff and other potential issues. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, and then carefully coat your scalp and hair with the mixture. Leave it on for 30 minutes, then thoroughly shampoo your hair with a mild shampoo to get rid of the oil residue. Use a very gentle shampoo for this. It would be unfortunate to spend time treating your hair only to then strip away all of the beneficial oils by using a shampoo that was too harsh. This treatment works well for hair that has been abused with straighteners, tongs or dyes.
Warnings and Precautions
Castor oil is generally well tolerated. Most people can use it orally or topically with no issues. It is a gentle vegetable oil that allergies to are relatively rare. There are some people who do experience side effects if they apply it directly to their skin, however. For this reason it is a good idea to perform a spot test before using any new carrier oil. Simply rub a small amount of the oil onto the inside of your forearm and leave it for a few hours. If you do not notice any itchiness, rash or other adverse reactions then you can safely use the carrier oil. Test any new blends you make in the same way to ensure that you don’t have any allergies to essential oils.
Remember that castor oil is a laxative, so if you ever take it orally you may experience the laxative effect. Only take very small amounts. If you have a stomach ache, period pains or other similar issues, then instead of taking castor oil orally you may want to try using a castor pack.
If you are taking prescription medication or have a pre-existing health condition then you should talk to your doctor before using essential oil blends. Castor oil itself is generally thought of as being safe but the essential oils that you mix with it could interact with other medications that you are taking in a way which may make them more, or less, effective. It is always wise to seek advice.
Using Castor Oil as a Carrier Oil
Some essential oils such as tea tree and peppermint can be applied neat to your skin but most essential oils need to be diluted. Often, the recommended dilutions will be listed on the side of the bottle. If all the bottle says is “dilute before use” then you should take a moment to look up recommended dilutions before using that oil. If you find conflicting information, start with the weakest recommended dilution to be on the safe side.
Some essential oils such as clove oil need to be diluted to no more than 0.5%. Others can be used at much stronger dilutions. Lemon oil and grapefruit oil should be used at no greater than 2% and 4% respectively. The reason lemon and grapefruit oils need to be diluted is that when used alone they could cause phototoxicity.17
As a general rule, if you are making a blend with 1oz of carrier oil, then a 1% dilution would be 6 drops of the essential oil, and a 2% dilution, therefore, would be 12 drops. One and two percent solutions are the most common strengths for essential oil treatments for adults. There are some essential oils that can be used on very young children, but if you are going to do this then you should use only a .25%. Seek advice from your doctor before using essential oils on children under the age of two, as well as on adults who are immune-compromised or otherwise very unwell.
Be sure to store your castor oil carefully. Keep it in a sealed bottle in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. Just as with other vegetable oils, castor oil can go rancid if it is not taken care of properly.
Castor oil may have a reputation as being a boring old oil that makes an appearance in many old wives’ tales, but it is actually incredibly good for you and incredibly versatile. If you have bad memories of being forced to take a spoonful of it when you had a sore stomach as a child, try to cast those memories aside and give it another go. It has many other uses, and it is much more pleasant to use it as part of an essential oil blend rather than trying to drink it!
You can use castor oil in oral treatments, and if you add some honey and perhaps ginger or cinnamon it will taste much better than the treatments you grew up with. Mix castor oil with coconut oil for a topical application and you will have something that works nicely as a moisturizer and a protective salve. You can do so much more with castor oil than you might think, and who knows, you may be able to teach your parents a thing or two about the oil that they have been grudgingly using for so long!
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