Skip to content

Castor oil, how to use it and and what it can actually do for your skin

An ingredient that was once used as engine lubricant for race cars doesn't exactly sound appealing in beauty products. But castor oil could be exactly what your regime is missing in the winter months.

YouTube is awash with testimonials on the power of castor oil for hair. It's an age-old hair and scalp moisturiser in Black communities but, more recently, castor oil has gone mainstream and is being touted as a miracle ingredient to prevent follicle inflammation, boost shine and promote hair growth – be it on the head, eyelashes or brows.

But less is known about its effects when packed into skincare products. Should we be slathering something so nutrient-dense on our skin, too? We asked the experts...

What is castor oil?

Castor oil, often listed as ricinus communis on ingredients lists, is the vegetable oil that comes from pressing the seeds of the castor oil plant found in tropical climates such as Eastern Africa, India and the Mediterranean Basin.

Clear or pale yellow in colour, castor oil is much thicker than other oils commonly used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes, such as coconut oil or argan oil. But on the plus side, it's also much richer in vitamin E and fatty acids than other vegetable oils.

While there are no real scientific studies to prove that castor oil helps with hair growth, it's thought that ricinoleic acid, a hydrating amino acid in the oil, improves the condition of hair. This, in turn, creates a better environment for new hair growth – hence those glowing testimonials on social media.

Is it good for our skin?

Unlike rosehip or argan oils, castor oil tends to be a backing singer in skincare formulas rather than the star of the show. So you may already be using a product laced with castor oil without realising it. “It's really good for nourishing the skin on the lips, so you'll find castor oil in a lot of lipsticks and lip balms,” says facialist Chelsee Lewis.

Castor oil is essentially made up of fatty acids, “which are good for nourishing and hydrating dry, ageing skin,” adds Chelsee. The oil also contains triglycerides, which can help skin to maintain moisture. Plus it acts as a humectant, meaning it draws water from the air and traps it in your skin, thereby preventing moisture from evaporating. This is especially beneficial in winter when your skin is facing the see-saw of biting cold temperatures outside and central heating indoors.

While studies on castor oil are currently thin on the ground, one shows that the ricinoleic acid in castor oil may be anti-microbial. "For this reason, castor oil is an effective ingredient to help fight and prevent blemishes and impurities in the skin; even severe cases of acne," explains Susanne Kaufmann, founder of her eponymous natural skincare line.

Another study indicates that castor oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Those with skin complaints such as dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and keratosis pilaris could also benefit from castor oil as its double-whammy approach soothes itching and fights bacteria.

“As well as being anti-inflammatory, castor oil is also a diuretic, so it really helps to decongest puffiness,” says Chelsee. “I find it's especially good for massaging into the skin when you're suffering from ‘booze face’ [aka the side effects of over-indulging in too much pinot grigio].” Finally, castor oil is high in antioxidants to help ward off damage from pollution and UV rays.

Who should use castor oil?

On paper, castor oil sounds like a godsend for acne sufferers. But you wouldn't want to slather a thick layer onto oily spot-prone skin as it's thick and could be pore-clogging. “If you have an oilier skin, use castor oil sparingly,” warns Chelsee. “Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, castor oil will take down redness in acne-prone skin. But it's also a heavier oil so stick to using it once or twice a week to see how your skin reacts.”

As with all skincare, it comes down to formulation. "Castor oil is safe for anyone to use on the skin in small doses," says Susanne. "For example, 1.5% of the formulation for our Mineral Body Lotion is castor oil. As with any ingredient, it's always best used in moderation." That said, the fatty acids in castor oil will feed dry skin the nutrients and proteins it is craving to stay plump and bouncy.

There are just two caveats to note. It's always recommended to do a 24-hour patch test by applying a little castor oil on your inner forearm before using it on your face and, if irritation occurs, discontinue use. Castor oil is best avoided during pregnancy as it is thought to induce labour.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

Share this article: