Castor oil is one of those old-school-is-new-school home remedies that has a long history as both a medicine and a beauty aid. The ancient Egyptians used it to promote labor, regrow hair, and reportedly dropped it directly into the eyes to soothe irritation. The famous American mystic and medium Edgar Cayce advocated the use of castor oil packs for treating scleroderma, epilepsy, nourishing the skin, treating allergies, helping digestive ailments, alleviating constipation, and aids in the elimination of gallstones.
I first learned of castor oil from an Ayurvedic M.D. over a decade ago; however, I was hesitant at first because my only frame of reference were vintage posters of constipated children. When a little research showed that it's used as a common industrial lubricant and is often added to paint, my inner skeptic screamed at me to run like hell.
However, my skepticism has since been transformed and I am a full convert.
Not only is it one of my medicine cabinet staples, but I use castor oil packs in the office with patients on a daily basis. When viewed through the lens of Chinese medicine, castor oil functions as a warming purgative. When ingested internally it will aid your body in the removal of toxins through the bowels (hence posters of smiling babies with diapers ripe for changing). When used externally, it increases the circulation of blood, and body fluids - which means it has potent pain management properties.
There are hundreds of uses for castor oil, but the six home remedies I've experienced success with both personally and clinically are...
- ... to relieve constipation castor oil definitely works; however, in some cases maybe a little too well. 80% of castor oil is ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid that binds to receptors located on the smooth muscle cells of the intestines and induces powerful contractions. A generally acceptable dose for adults is 1 tablespoon of castor oil designed for internal use. Once you've taken your dose, it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours to see the effects. The good news is that it works, the not so good news is that it may induce explosive diarrhea. Make sure you have fast access to a toilet in the hours following ingestion.
- ... to resolve ingrown hairs, simply rub a dab of castor oil on the skin where the hair is trying to push through before going to bed at night and by morning the issue will have been resolved. This is great for ingrown eyebrow hairs due to over waxing.
- ...to heal sunburn: Castor oil has the same cooling sensation as aloe and the ricinoleic acid protects burn induced blisters from bacteria that may cause infections. Simply rub the castor oil on the burned skin with a few drops of lavender oil to help take the heat out.
- ...as an anti-fungal (athlete’s foot, ringworm, etc.): The active compound found in castor oil called undecylenic acid is highly anti-fungal. Apply the oil over the affected area and wrap with a water proof band aid overnight for best results.
- ...for acne: The ricinoleic acid found in castor oil fights off acne-causing bacteria and penetrates the skin layers to where the acne has its roots. Wash your face with warm water and massage your face in a circular motion with the oil. Keep the oil on overnight and rinse your face in the morning with cold water.
- ...to remove skin tags and warts: Apply the oil to the wart or skin tag every day for a few weeks and you should begin to see that mark disappear.
But where castor oil really shines as clinical medicine is with GYN issues.
Castor oil is an unsung hero when it comes to women's health. When used externally on the lower abdomen, castor oil increases the efficiency of circulation through your entire pelvis. Castor oil packs are incredibly easy to make and work wonders on endometriosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts that are not cancerous. The packs can also relieve ovarian pain, help with healing after a ruptured ovarian cyst, diminish caesarean scars and alleviate menstrual cramps.
Castor oil packs get a bad rap for being difficult to use and clean-up, but once you get the hang of it they're ridiculously simple and surprisingly relaxing. So grab a heating pad, a bottle of castor oil and queue up the Netflix for a sexy evening in on the couch!
DIY Castor Oil Pack
Castor oil has the unique ability to sink transdermally through the skin to relax smooth muscle. This simple action has a healing influence 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 reservoirs of blood. I routinely use castor oil packs with patients in the clinic during treatment and teach them to use the packs at home since regular use is needed to receive the full medical benefits of the packs.
When to avoid
It's best to avoid using castor oil packs if you have a fever, appendicitis, diabetic neuropathy, a scar that has not yet fully healed, lacerated skin, or if you are pregnant. If you're trying to get pregnant, I always recommend to avoid castor oil packs unless you're menstruating.
- Use on places where your body is struggling with chronic pain or an old injury. This includes the lower back, shoulders, hips, neck, and large joints.
- Use over your abdomen and stomach if you are chronically constipated, have issues with IBS or Crohn's disease.
- Use on your right side directly over your liver for any type of liver congestion.
- Use on your right side directly over your gallbladder prior to gallbladder flushes or to aid in mitigating gallstone pain.
- Use as an aid in an overall detox regimen.
- Use on the back of the neck and shoulders to aid in relieving tension headaches.
- Use as part of a scar therapy regimen once the incision has closed and fully healed, especially cesarean scars or post pregnancy abdominal stretch marks.
- Use to help with lymphatic drainage.
- Use directly over the lower abdomen for GYN issues such as endometriosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts that are not cancerous. Castor oil packs can also relieve ovarian pain and help with healing after a ruptured ovarian cyst. The packs do wonders for caesarean scars and menstrual cramps.
Frequency of Use
When using for pain, scar therapy, lymphatic drainage or menstrual disorders, it's best to use the pack 3 times a week for about 90 minutes at a time for at least 6 weeks. It's best to give your body a rest for a day or two between usages so that it has a chance to incorporate the work you've done with the pack. Some websites advise not to use the packs while menstruating because it can increase bleeding; however, if you have congestion in your uterus that's exactly what you want. I often recommend the packs to patients who's menstrual blood is sticky, contains dark clots larger than the size of an eraser head, or if the menstrual blood is consistently dark purple to brown colored through the majority of their bleed time. If you experience a heavy flow that is bright red and/or you are changing your hygiene products every couple hours because you're bleeding through, then you should consider waiting to use the castor oil packs until you have finished menstruating.
If you're using the pack to help out your digestion or a specific organ such as the liver, kidneys or colon; you can get away with 90 minutes twice a week for 2 to 3 weeks.
If you're using the castor oil pack to aid in general detox, the protocol is a bit more rigorous. You'll need to use the packs for 3 weeks in a specific order: Day 1 = Kidneys, Day 3 = Liver, Day 5 = Colon. The pack should remain over the designated area for a minimum of 90 minutes. If you've been chronically ill or finding that detox is difficult due to a high level of toxicity, it's best to start slow and use the pack for 30 minutes at a time until your system becomes strong enough to process the toxins that are being released. If you're using this for detox and you start to experience aching joints, headaches, muscle pain, foggy thinking, nausea or strange symptoms, it's best to shorten the duration of use. It's good to follow up with an Epsom salt bath or foot soak to help remove toxins.
What You'll Need
- Cold pressed hexane free castor oil for external use.
- Heating pad or hot water bottle. There are arguments for and against both choices; I prefer the hot water bottle.
- You can go old school with wool flannel and saran wrap or new school with wee-wee pads which are the exact same thing as disposable castor oil packs but at a much more affordable price.
- Baking soda, baby powder or arrowroot powder
Easy Peasy Packs:
- Because castor oil stains, get into some comfy clothes you don't mind messing up. It's a good idea to put down an old towel where ever you'll be relaxing so you don't stain your upholstery.
- Old School: Cut the wool flannel into a strip that's about 12”x 14” and place it a flat surface on top of piece of saran wrap. New School: Place the wee-wee pad on flat surface with the cotton side up.
- Pour about 3 tablespoons of castor oil onto the center of the wool flannel or pad. The material doesn't need it to be dripping with oil, just evenly distributed and enough to rub off on your skin. It would be similar to a wet sponge after you wring it out.
- Place either the flannel or the pad over the desired area; over the liver area for general use according to the Edgar Cayce followers, centered over the belly-button for digestion problems or constipation, centered over the lower abdomen for mentrual issues, or placed on the lower back for lumbago. If you’re using the pad, you're all set. If you're using the flannel, use the saran wrap to wrap yourself like a futuristic mummy so that the flannel stays against your skin.
- Get cozy on the couch or in bed, throw your heating pad or hot water bottle over the castor oil pack and catch up on your Netflix queue. In order to really work, the pack needs to left on for at least 90 minutes.
- Because castor oil is so viscous, to best wash the oil off your body, sprinkle the area with either a little baking soda, baby powder or arrowroot powder after peeling the pack off your body. That way the oil will easily come off in the shower with soap and water.
- There are two schools of thought regarding reusing the packs. The first school states that you can reuse the flannel or the pad without any issues. Simply fold the pad and place it in either a ziplock bag or mason jar before storing it in the fridge so that the oil doesn't go rancid. Be sure to add a little castor oil each time to make up for whatever came off on your body from the previous time. You can reuse either type of pack up to about 8 times before you need to throw way it away. The second school of thought states that you should never reuse the pads because of the toxins that they draw out through the skin and that packs should always be thrown away. I haven't come across any studies that explicitly show the toxin content of the packs before and after use, so in my mind the jury is still out on that one. However, I personally only use the pads once since I've found they seem to be more effective with single use only.