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13 Powerful Uses and Benefits of Castor Oil You Never Knew About

Castor oil is something you probably associate with a remedy your grandparents used for constipation. But this tasteless and odorless liquid has even more amazing benefits for your health and home. Here's why you'll want to put it on your shopping list.

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Castor oil for constipation

There are several home remedies for constipation, but one classic stands out: castor oil. (Your grandparents probably had a bottle in their medicine cabinet.) “This purgative oil cleanses the digestive tract and is considered a safe internal remedy for constipation in small doses, says Nadine Artemis, co-founder of livinglibations.com. “The dose used to treat constipation in adults is 15 milliliters (about 1 tablespoon), and it should provide relief within six hours.” Artemis recommends organic castor oil. This remedy is good for the occasional back up, but if you suffer from chronic constipation, see your doctor.

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Castor oil as moisturizer

Castor oil is a rich source of fatty acids which makes it a great moisturizer, especially when inside air is dryer in the winter. “Castor oil is great to rub into cracked cuticles and dry heels, on to chapped lips, or on any spot that needs extra moisture,” says Artemis. Here’s what to eat to combat dry winter skin.

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Healthy locks

Our poor hair—we do a lot of bad things to throw off its delicate balance. Fortunately, “a little dab of castor can be smoothed through dry hair to provide a little extra shine and to calm fly-aways,” says Artemis. “In fact, some research has shown that healthy hair growth is stimulated when castor oil is applied to the scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows.” Stephanie Johnson, a licensed hairstylist at Fusion in Dallas, says castor oil helps increase hair volume because it’s rich in omega-6 fatty acids and it encourages circulation, which is essential for hair growth. “Massage it in your palms until warm and apply to scalp before sleep. Shampoo out in the morning. This has to be done regularly, but some have felt an increase in their hair’s volume.” Castor oil isn’t recommended for those with extension systems in their hair because the oil can damage the bonds. And more isn’t necessarily better. “A little goes a long way,” Johnson says. Here, hair pros share top tips for healthy hair.

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Bye-bye flakes

Those annoying and embarrassing flakes aren’t just caused by dry scalp. (In fact, these five causes might surprise you.) Before trying a dandruff shampoo, Johnson recommends using castor oil to combat dry (itchy, tiny white flakes) and oily (bigger, waxy looking flakes) dandruff. For dry dandruff, mix one tablespoon of castor oil, one tablespoon of olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon. For oily dandruff, mix one tablespoon castor oil, one tablespoon honey, and one tablespoon aloe vera gel and the juice from half a lemon. “For either recipe, mix and apply to new growth (roots) of hair 20 to 30 minutes before you shampoo and condition as usual, “advises Johnson.

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Castor oil improves immune function

Stress, lack of sleep, and being overweight take a toll on our immune system. “The lymph system is a major player in our overall immune system, and castor oil packs may encourage lymphatic circulation in the abdomen, breasts, uterus, liver, thymus gland, and thyroid gland,” says Artemis. “One study found that castor oil packs improved lymph flow, produced a temporary increase in the number of immune-boosting T-11 cells, improved liver health, and reduced inflammation.” It’s easy to make your own castor oil pack: Just soak a hand towel in castor oil and apply to the area needing treatment. To catch the drips, cover the area with a towel and secure it with safety pins and apply a heat source such as a heating pad or hot water bottle. “The pack should remain in place for at least an hour if not overnight,” says Artemis. Learn which seemingly innocent habits may be harming your immune system.

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Castor oil for ovarian cysts

Most of the time ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms but for some women they may cause pain, bloating, and pressure. “Herbalists have a wonderful tradition of helping these women heal with the use of a castor oil pack which is inexpensive and amazingly effective,” says Sara Chana Silverstein, RH (AHG) master herbalist and classical homeopath who runs clinics in New York City and Los Angeles. “Although we do not completely understand the action of these packs we do see, with sonogram technology images before and after using this method, that cysts do dramatically reduce in size and pain is rapidly decreased.” According to Silverstein, castor oil appears to sink through the transdermal skin layer and help facilitate healing to inner organs. “Castor oil packs also work to alleviate inflammation and swelling but works especially well on all hollow organs, specifically the blood and lymph vessels, the uterus, Fallopian tubes, bowels, gall bladder, and even the liver, which is not hollow but is filled with venous lakes.”

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Castor oil for sore muscles

Building lean muscle mass helps improves your life in so many ways but sometimes those hard-working muscles get sore. Whether you’re training for your first 5K or have achy back muscles, castor oil can ease the pain. Mindy Solkin, founder of The Running Center and professional running coach, says castor oil helps alleviate the inflammation. She advises her clients to lightly pour castor oil on a flannel cloth and wrap saran wrap around it. Next, place the wrap on the sore muscle. Use the medium setting on a heating pad to amp up the relief and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this once a day to relieve sore muscles. Here are more benefits of gaining muscle.

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Castor oil for belly bloat

Belly bloat is uncomfortable and frustrating, especially when you don’t feel comfortable in your clothes. Try eating these foods to relieve belly bloat, and make sure to take a tablespoon of castor oil too. “Castor oil helps with belly bloat as it contains a fatty acid, ricinoleic acid, that helps with easing muscle contraction of the abdominal wall,” says Taz Bhatia, MD, (aka Dr. Taz) author of Super Woman RX.

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Castor oil for stomachaches

If you’re experiencing one of these stomach pains, the fatty acid in castor oil just may be your ticket to a happier tummy. “Castor oil packs, easy to make at home, are a quick way to relieve abdominal pain,” says Dr. Taz. “Ricinoleic acid helps with easing muscle contraction of the abdominal wall.” Use a castor oil pack with a heating pad and Dr. Taz says your abdominal cramps and indigestion issues should diminish.

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Castor oil for skin conditions

Castor oil keeps giving, this time as an effective anti-fungal. “Castor oil is known to clear common skin conditions like ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot,” says Artemis. “Just pour a dab into your palm, rub your hands together, and massage it into the skin or scalp. It can be safely used every day.” Find out why your skin is rebelling.

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Castor oil for pest control

Just when you thought castor oil couldn’t possibly have any more benefits! “It won’t kill active pest populations, but it does repel pests away,” says Brad Thorstenson, president of Interstate Pest Management. “We recommend starting with a mixture of equal parts castor oil and liquid dish soap, diluted in water. You can pour or spray this solution in your garden where you want to prevent animals from noshing,” says Thorstenson. Be sure to apply it directly to the dirt or spray where you want to prevent animals from noshing on your plants. This should deter critters like moles, skunks, and squirrels. “If you want to kick it up a notch, you can also include chili powder, garlic powder, or even cayenne pepper in the mixture,” says Thorstenson.

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Castor oil around the house

Squeaky hinges, scissors, or any metal part that is stuck can move freely again with castor oil. Zondra Wilson, of Blu Skin Care uses castor oil frequently to loosen up the utensils in her shop. “Due to its consistent viscosity, castor oil does not freeze, so it can be ideal for either hot or very cold temperatures,” says Wilson.

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Castor oil cautions

There are a lot of kooky pregnancy myths and crazy ways to induce labor that have been floating around for generations. Back in the day, castor oil was used to induce labor. It worked but it had nasty side effects. Thankfully, that method is no longer recommended. “It is not recommended today by physicians to help induce labor as it can cause nausea and diarrhea leading to dehydration,” says Dr. Taz. Castor oil also shouldn’t be taken internally by pregnant women. “When taken orally, castor oil can have the same stimulating effect the uterus, causing contractions.”

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.