People have been using castor oil for their skin and hair for centuries in the US, but the old-school remedy has recently received some fresh attention—as in, more than a billion views on TikTok. This sudden surge in interest makes sense: The popularity of face oils and other “natural” skin care products has been steadily spreading over the last decade-ish, making simple ingredients all the more appealing.
Before we get into castor oil’s potential beauty benefits, though, we’d like to take this opportunity to note that “natural” is essentially a meaningless marketing term that the FDA hasn’t defined. And perhaps more to the point: Just because something’s natural, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you—or even safe.1
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, what exactly can castor oil do for your skin? What about your hair and eyelashes? We asked dermatologists what you need to know about the sticky substance, including why (and how) to incorporate it into your routine.
What is castor oil?
Castor oil is a thick vegetable oil that’s extracted from the bean of the tropical castor plant (or ricinus communis, if you want to get horticultural). It contains several moisturizing fatty acids (including ricinoleic, linoleic, and stearic acid) that—when applied topically—can boost hydration and address certain skin conditions.2 You can buy a bottle of plain ol’ castor oil at many health food and drugstores, but you can also find it in some personal care products and cosmetics, like lotions and lipstick.
Again, one of the major draws of castor oil is the fact that, in its 100% pure form, it’s a single-ingredient product, which, appeals to the growing number of consumers seeking “clean” skin care, Jill Waibel, MD, board-certified dermatologist and owner of Miami and Dermatology Laser Institute, tells SELF.3
However, even though it’s been around for thousands of years, we don’t know a ton about it. “Like most ‘molecules of the moment,’ which is what I call trending skin care ingredients, castor oil’s benefits are backed by some science,” S. Tyler Hollmig, MD, associate professor and director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, tells SELF.
What can castor oil do for your skin and hair?
Overall, limited research shows that the ricinoleic acid in castor oil may have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties (which could, theoretically, be helpful for inflammatory conditions like eczema and psoriasis).4 5 But we still need more data, Dr. Hollmig says, as these potential benefits have mainly been found in a lab test tube or via a computer-simulated model.
Test tube studies are a good starting point and help researchers know if they’re on the right path with a specific ingredient, but they’re a far cry from applying castor oil to a variety of people and measuring the results in a randomized controlled trial. In other words, “it’s difficult to draw conclusions on how influential these properties will be on our actual skin,” Dr. Hollmig explains. Still, there are some science-backed reasons to consider adding castor oil to your routine, like the following.
It can seriously increase moisture.
In the wintertime, both the cold, dry air outside and the hot, dry air indoors draw moisture out of your body (including your skin)—which is why you may notice that your complexion is flaky and dull, rather than smooth and dewy, in the colder months, Dr. Waibel says.