Everyone is talking about castor oil. Are the benefits real?

Khloé Kardashian and Charlize Theron are among the celebrities jumping on the castor oil beauty trend. But is it worth the hype?

Castor oil has a bad rap with anyone who was force-fed spoonfuls of it as a child, but it’s gone viral on social media recently for benefits other than being a powerful laxative with a famously unpleasant taste.

On TikTok, there are countless videos claiming it does everything from fixing digestive issues to erasing wrinkles.

And it has a strong celebrity following, with Khloé Kardashian, Helen Mirren, Hailey Bieber and Charlize Theron as fans.

But are the touted benefits of castor oil real or just hype?

What is castor oil?

Castor oil is a thick oil with a pale yellow colour and a distinct taste and odour.

It is made by cold-pressing the seeds of Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant.

A remedy that dates back to ancient Egypt, castor oil was reportedly used to induce labour and treat irritated eyes.

Today it is well known as a laxative to help relieve occasional constipation, and it is increasingly found in skincare products.

Is castor oil anti-ageing?

One of castor oil’s key ingredients is ricinoleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid known for its moisturising properties.

Skincare and dermal therapist Isabella Loneragan says castor oil has potential benefits for the skin.

“The ricinoleic acid in castor oil helps lock in moisture, making it beneficial for dry or dehydrated skin,” Isabella, who is the founder of Isabella Loneragan Skin and Ragan Skin, explains.

“This can be particularly helpful for mature skin.”

Sydney dermatologist Davin Lim says castor oil also contains high levels of antioxidants, including tocopherol, or vitamin E.

“Antioxidants play a crucial role in shielding the skin from damage caused by free radicals, including those generated by UV radiation and environmental pollutants,” Dr Lim says.

How else does castor oil help the skin?

Castor oil has additional anti-inflammatory effects and may assist with wound healing.

“Ricinoleic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that enable the oil to alleviate inflammation associated with skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema,” Dr Lim says.

“And when applied to wounds, castor oil creates a conducive, moist environment that aids in the healing process and prevents the drying out of sores.”

What about castor oil packs?

Castor oil is sometimes used in packs that are applied to the skin with or without heat.

These packs are made by soaking sheets of cloth in castor oil before placing them on the skin like a compress to help relieve skin issues such as insect bites and sunburn.

But do they work? Dr Lim says the use of castor oil packs “are not sustained in clinical research.”

Is castor oil good for hair growth?

Many people swear by using castor oil for luscious hair and longer eyelashes.

“There is little scientific evidence that castor oil stimulates growth or activates metabolic functions in lash follicles to extend the growth phase,” Dr Lim says.

“However, the keratin protein in lashes, when dehydrated, becomes vulnerable to weakness and breakage, making them look shorter and thinner.

“Castor oil helps to seal in moisture, potentially preserving the appearance of fuller lashes.”

Isabella says some studies suggest the antioxidants in castor oil may help support a healthy scalp and hair follicles.

“It (castor oil) has some antimicrobial properties too, which may help protect the scalp from bacterial and fungal infections that could hinder hair growth,” she adds.

Does castor oil work for wrinkles?

“While more research is needed, some studies suggest that castor oil may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, possibly due to its moisturising and skin-nourishing properties,” Isabella says.

However, despite castor oil’s benefits, it may not be the best option for skincare, Dr Lim notes.

“Its effectiveness in stimulating collagen for anti-wrinkle treatments is limited compared to alternatives like retinol, retinoids and skincare acids,” he says.

If you decide to try castor oil, Isabella recommends doing a patch test first, especially if you have sensitive skin.

“Pure, cold-pressed castor oil is best as it retains more of its beneficial properties than refined versions,” Isabella says.

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Written by Joanna Hall.