Have you ever wondered if castor oil packs are truly as amazing as some people say, or if they’re just another passing trend we’ll laugh about someday? (Goat yoga, I’m looking at you.)
Castor has been used as a remedy since at least the 16th century BC, so it’s clearly not a fad, but you might be wondering:
- Why so many healing traditions, including Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, revere it (1)
- Whether modern research supports traditional use
- And if castor oil packs are really the best way to unlock this oil’s unique benefits
Although I’ve used castor oil packs over the years to support liver detoxification, lymph flow and other things – and they seemed to help – they were so messy I never applied them consistently. So, unlike some practices that I have a ton of experience with, I didn’t have a strong opinion about castor oil packs either way . . . until recently.
Table of Contents
- Stress, Schedules & Detoxing While I Sleep
- What’s so unique about castor oil?
- What is a castor oil pack?
- 7 Benefits of Castor Oil Packs
- #1 – Liver Love
- #2 – Lymphatic Drainage
- #3 – Hormone Balance
- #4 – Keeps Things Moving
- #5 – Radiant Skin
- #6 – Hair Growth
- #7 – Soothes Joint & Muscle Discomfort
- Do castor oil packs have any side effects?
- How To Save 10% On Queen of the Thrones Castor Oil Packs
- Tips & Frequently Asked Questions
Stress, Schedules & Detoxing While I Sleep
Last summer my family moved out of our house after mold was discovered, and my husband and I had so much to do in a short period of time – quickly sort through our belongings and figure out what could potentially be salvaged, coordinate with all the different people involved in the remediation of our home, find a temporary place to stay, and much more.
At one point I was talking with Katie of Wellness Mama about how challenging it was to support my detox pathways while going through everything. My functional medicine MD was helping me care for my family using the tools we had available at our rental, but I could tell my body needed more.
For example, I wasn’t sleeping well and most mornings my face was puffy, which can be a indicator of sluggish lymph flow. Most of my “go to” wellness tools were packed away in storage and I couldn’t figure out how to fit one more thing into my daily schedule, so Katie suggested that I detox while I sleep.
Yeah, I didn’t know that was an option, either.
By the end of the day, I was holding a gift basket containing yummy tigernut flour cookies and a “less-mess” castor oil pack kit for my liver. It can be worn while sleeping and uses my own radiant heat to work instead of a heating pad, so I was able to fit it into my nighttime routine in under a minute.
After a week or so I was feeling a difference, so I started digging deeper into how castor oil packs work . . . and ordered some for my family.
I’ll share what I discovered below, but first I want to remind you that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it’s not meant to prevent, diagnose or treat any condition. If you have a question about whether any wellness practice is right for you, please talk with a qualified healthcare professional.
Okay, let’s dive in.
What’s so unique about castor oil?
Known as Kiki (bringing good luck) by the Greeks and also Palma Christ (Palm of Christ), the castor plant (Ricinus communis) is one of the oldest cultivated crops in history. (2) It grows throughout India, Africa, and the Mediterranean, where its seeds are harvested and pressed to make castor oil.
Legend has it that Cleopatra used this “golden elixir” to brighten the whites of her eyes, which is kind of fascinating when you consider that modern eye drops often incorporate medical grade, sterilized castor oil (don’t put regular castor oil in your eyes, though).
Pliny the Elder recommended it for joint discomfort, improving skin complexion, hair growth and more, while Hippocrates (The Father of Medicine) recommended it as a laxative and general detoxifier. (3) (4)
One important thing to know is that while castor oil is an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and other healing traditions, the seeds themselves are actually poisonous. They contain a lectin protein called ricin, which is removed from the oil during extraction.
So now that we’ve covered what’s NOT in the oil, let’s talk about what is:
Castor oil contains 80-90% ricinoleic acid, which has a chemical structure similar to prostaglandin E3 – a type of prostaglandin our bodies make to reduce inflammation. (1) (5) (6)
Ricinoleic acid is primarily what gives castor oil its unique texture and beneficial properties, but it also contains vitamin E tocopherols and tocotrienols, plus a small amount of other fatty acids including omega-9 oleic acid and omega-6 linoleic acid.
Now that’s you know a little about this unique oil, you might be wondering . . .
What is a castor oil pack?
Similar to herbal poultices, castor oil packs are made by soaking a clean cloth in castor oil and placing it on your skin. Usually the area is wrapped in plastic wrap to try to contain the oil, although I always used parchment paper instead.
Once the plastic wrap / parchment paper is in place, most people top the pack with a heating pad or hot water bottle to help the oil absorb more deeply into the skin.
If you’re thinking that sounds like a messy hassle, you’re right. That’s why Queen of The Thrones castor oil packs are so popular – created by a naturopathic doctor, they combine:
- an organic cotton inner lining
- a PUL outer layer (the same material chosen by cloth diaper makers to create a non-toxic, water resistant outer shell)
- and two stretchy straps
. . . in order to deliver a “less mess” option that takes just a minute or so to set up and uses your body’s infrared heat to promote absorption.
Plus, because they can be worn overnight, you don’t need to set aside time to lie down and apply the pack during the day.
7 Benefits of Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil has a low molecular weight that allows it to penetrate deeply into tissues, so it’s often applied over areas that may need extra support – the liver, thyroid, breasts, and pelvis/hips, for example.
However, because it can move through the epidermis and stratum corneum into the dermis – which is where our lymphatic vessels lie – it’s benefits don’t appear to be limited to the area the pack is placed over.
Here’s what the research says about the local and whole body benefits of castor oil packs:
#1 – Liver Love
Our liver is the ultimate multitasker. Every single day it filters out a variety of compounds and decides what to keep, what to recycle, and what to throw away.
Unfortunately, modern life is creating an unprecedented workload for our liver and other primary detox organs, so many practitioners recommend taking extra care to support them.
Castor oil packs have been traditionally placed directly over the liver, which is the organ that makes (and uses) a compound called glutathione. If you’re not familiar with it, glutathione is the master antioxidant that our liver uses during phase 2 of liver detoxification to bind with things like:
- Heavy metals including mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic
- Industrial toxins
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Mold toxins (mycotoxins) (8)
- Medications including acetaminophen
Interestingly, one animal study showed that castor oil helped tissues retain glutathione levels even better than an actual glutathione solution. (7) Helping to preserve glutathione is thought to reduce the liver’s workload, and research suggests that castor oil packs may benefit liver function in other ways, too.
For example, one study found that using castor oil packs five days per week for two weeks positively influenced liver enzyme levels. (1)
Given how vital it is for filtering out compounds, and how much needs to be filtered in modern life, optimizing liver function is pretty important. It’s just one piece though. Our lymphatic system is another vital detox pathway that needs support . . . oh wait, castor oil supports that, too!
#2 – Lymphatic Drainage
Unlike our cardiovascular system, which is powered by the heart, our lymphatic system is a passive circulatory system that relies on muscle contractions to:
- “Pump” immune cells throughout the body
- Move pathogens, toxins, and abnormal cells into the bloodstream so they can be further processed by other organs
In other words, it serves a dual-purpose role as both part of our immune system and our internal drainage (detoxification) system.
Unfortunately, lymph fluid moves when we do, and we’re more sedentary than ever before. Sluggish lymph is definitely not what we want as we work to reduce our overall body burden, which leads me to the next reason to love castor oil:
It supports the production of nitric oxide, which plays a vital role in the movement of lymph fluid throughout the body. (9) (10)
Because it can reach the deeper layer of skin where many of our lymphatic vessels lie, it’s thought to directly interact with this passive delivery system. (11)
Lymph empties into the bloodstream, so one way to look at the impact of castor oil packs on lymph flow is to take blood samples before and after use.
Researchers decided to do just that in this double-blind study. After taking a baseline sample, they applied a castor oil pack for two hours and then took follow-up samples 2, 7, and 24 hours after removing it.
According to the study, the amount of lymphocytes found in the blood surged around the 7 hour mark, which suggests an increase of flow from the lymph to the cardiovascular system. The lymphocyte count dropped by the 24 hour mark, but continued to stay within normal range.
#3 – Hormone Balance
Castor oil is thought to support hormone balance in a couple of ways:
First, the gentle compression of the pack itself may stimulate the release of feel good hormones including dopamine (the motivation molecule) and oxytocin (the love molecule), which can help balance cortisol (the stress hormone).
Also, multitasker that it is, our liver does far more than just detoxify pesticides and other toxins. It also synthesizes certain hormones, activates others, and inactivates excess or “leftover” hormones. (12)
Yep, it binds leftover hormones with “bouncer” compounds that escort them out of the body via urine or bowel movements. Castor oil packs are thought to optimize leftover hormone binding by supporting overall liver function. (1)
One problem with inactivated hormones, though, is that if they aren’t escorted from the body fairly quickly they can break free from their “bouncer” and get reabsorbed – a process that can lead to hormone imbalances.
Once again, though, castor oil may help, because it . . .
#4 – Keeps Things Moving
Without a doubt, castor oil’s most famous use is as a natural laxative. In fact, oral consumption is actually FDA-approved to relieve occasional constipation. If you’ve ever actually tried that method, though, you know the effects can be intense . . . often leading to cramping, bloating, and urgency.
However, research suggests that external use of castor oil packs may gently support phase 3 detoxification – aka the elimination of toxins through the bowels so they can’t be reabsorbed – without the harsh, uncomfortable effects of oral laxatives. (13)
It’s thought to work by stimulating PGE3 receptors in the smooth muscle of the intestine that activate peristalsis (the rhythmic movement of the intestine that moves things along). (14)
The gentle compression of castor oil packs also stimulates somatic reflexes, which may support overall gut health by encouraging a shift toward parasympathetic mode. Also known as our “rest and digest” state, this mode is ideal for digesting and absorbing nutrients as well as supporting overall intestinal tone. (15)
#5 – Radiant Skin
Because of its thick consistency and ability to penetrate deeply into the demis, castor oil has been prized since at least ancient Egyptian times for its ability to nourish skin while locking in moisture.
It’s rich in skin-loving nutrients like vitamin E and essential fatty acids that support radiance, and it’s considered appropriate for all skin types: normal, dry, sensitive, combination, mature and even acne-prone skin.
Despite its viscosity it’s actually non-comedogenic, meaning that it’s not likely to clog pores. In fact, it’s one of the most recommended oils for acne prone skin when using the oil cleansing method.
With that said, it is still an oil, so if you do have acne-prone skin it’s best not to overdo things in terms of application.
How to Apply to Skin
To use it as a moisturizer, apply a dime-sized amount onto freshly cleansed skin, then massage it in. I dab a little onto my forehead, temples, cheeks, chin and neck, then gently go over my skin using circular motions for a minute or two.
If you’d like to add the gentle compression benefit of a castor oil pack to the mix, Queen of The Thrones makes a sleep mask that can be layered over the castor oil applied around your eyes (but not in them).
Note: Always do a patch test before first use of any new skincare ingredient. Although rare, hypersensitivity reactions can occur, and if they do you should discontinue use.
#6 – Hair Growth
Castor oil has been traditionally applied to the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes to support hair growth and luster. Although there isn’t a lot of clinical research on the subject, according to this study,
Ricinoleic acid has a two-dimensional structure, which is very similar to the prostaglandin family and has also been demonstrated to have some degree of effect on hair growth.”
Although the exact mechanism is unclear, we know that castor oil encourages the production of nitric oxide, and nitric oxide stimulates the activity of dermal papilla cells located at the base of hair follicles. These cells play a crucial role in hair follicle regeneration and promoting the growth of new hair strands. (9) (10) (16)
How To Use Castor Oil To Support Eyelash & Eyebrow Growth
- Wash and dry your face.
- Dip a clean mascara wand in a small amount of castor oil – a little goes a long way so don’t overdo it – and then apply to your eyelashes just like you would mascara.
- Apply castor oil to your eyebrows using the wand or your fingertips. If desired, follow with a Queen of The Thrones sleep mask to keep all the emollient goodness in place.
Tip: I’ve only been using this method for a couple of weeks, so I don’t have any personal results to report yet. From what I’ve read consistency seems to be key, though. I’ll let you know!
Note: Always do a patch test before first use. Although rare, hypersensitivity reactions can occur, and if they do you should discontinue use.
#7 – Soothes Joint & Muscle Discomfort
Castor oil packs can be applied to sore joints and muscles – knee, shoulder, elbow, etc. – in order to soothe and support healing.
Research shows that its main constituent – ricinoleic acid – may help reduce Substance P, which is a chemical messenger involved in the sensation of pain. (17)
Do castor oil packs have any side effects?
According to the Queen of The Thrones castor oil packs website, which was founded by a naturopathic doctor, castor oil packs can be safely combined with any medication or supplement.
However, they do offer the following cautions along with specific guidance for using the thyroid packs, pelvic packs and other specialized packs on their site:
Pregnancy: Castor Oil Packs should NOT be used during pregnancy, unless advised by your doctor, doula or midwife practitioners.
Postpartum during breastfeeding:You may want to wait until you’ve finished breastfeeding to wear your Castor Oil Liver Pack, however, the Pelvic Castor Oil Pack can be used during this time to support healing and resetting of the pelvic and abdominal organs after having a baby.
Menstruation: Contrary to popular belief, Castor Oil Packs CAN be worn during your period. However, if it’s your FIRST time ever doing a Castor Oil Pack, wait until the end of your period to begin, otherwise you may experience more intense period cramps.
After regular usage there is no issue with doing your pack on your period. Often many practitioners note that your period improves with a regular Castor Oil Pack practice.”
Also, castor oil should not be applied to broken skin.
How To Save 10% On Queen of the Thrones Castor Oil Packs
A trainer once told me, “The best type of exercise is the one you will actually do consistently,” and I think that pretty much applies to all wellness practices.
For me, DIY castor oil packs are too much of a messy hassle to commit to consistently, but I’ve been happily supporting my detox pathways while I sleep ever since Katie dropped off a Queen of The Thrones many month ago.
It’s recommended that packs be replaced every 2-3 months, so I recently ordered a fresh pack and bottle of castor oil. Unlike the castor oil you will find in local stores, Queen of the Thrones castor oil is extracted and bottled using methods (and materials) that ensure maximum potency.
All of their castor oil is:
- Certified organic – No pesticides or herbicides
- Extra virgin – The gold standard, first press of oil
- Hexane-free – Processed without solvents including hexane, which is a known nervous system and hormone disruptor (18) (19)
- Bottled in amber glass – Preserves the quality and nutrient profile of the oil and avoids potential leaching from chemicals found in plastic containers (UV filters, slip agents, and BPA, for example)
Tips & Frequently Asked Questions
Is it completely-mess free?
Not completely, so it’s best to wear an old t-shirt over the pack when wearing it to bed. I also lay a large, soft towel on my bed sheet and wrap part of it over my belly for extra protection.
Can children use castor oil packs?
Yes, but they should not sleep in them because the straps could be a safety hazard. Queen of The Thrones sells a kid-size castor oil pack, which they recommend wearing for at least an hour before bed.
Should I layer a heating pad or hot water bottle over my Queen of the Thrones castor oil pack?
The packs are designed to hold in your body heat naturally, so no additional heat is needed.
- Deborah A. Kennedy and Dana Keaton (2012) Evidence for the Topical Application of Castor Oil
- Vinay R Patel et. al. (2016) Castor Oil: Properties, Uses, and Optimization of Processing Parameters in Commercial Production
- John Bostock, Tufts University. Pliny the Elder, The Natural History
- Letizia Polito et. al. (2019) Ricin: An Ancient Story for a Timeless Plant Toxin
- Jyllian Kemsley (2012) Castor Oil Mechanism Revealed
- American College of Toxicology (2007) Final report on the safety assessment of Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil
- Thomas Holm et. al. (2013) Glutathione preservation during storage of rat lenses in optisol-GS and castor oil
- Peng Li et. al. (2020) Detoxification of Mycotoxins through Biotransformation
- Lauren F. Sestito and Susan N. Thomas (2021) Lymph-directed nitric oxide increases immune cell access to lymph-borne nanoscale solutes
- Geert W. Schmid-Schönbein (2012) Nitric oxide (NO) side of lymphatic flow and immune surveillance
- David P. Rakel MD (2017) Integrative Medicine 4th Edition
- Jane Rhyu and Run Yu (2012) Newly discovered endocrine functions of the liver
- Gülşah Gürol Arslan and Ismet Eşer (2011) An examination of the effect of castor oil packs on constipation in the elderly
- Sorin Tunaru et. al. (2012) Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors
- Kirsteen N. Browning and R. Alberto Travagli (2016) Central Nervous System Control of Gastrointestinal Motility and Secretion and Modulation of Gastrointestinal Functions
- Ronald Wolf et. al. (2003) Nitric oxide in the human hair follicle: constitutive and dihydrotestosterone-induced nitric oxide synthase expression and NO production in dermal papilla cells
- C Vieira et. al. (2020) Effect of ricinoleic acid in acute and subchronic experimental models of inflammation
- Hermann M. Bolt (2022) in Reference Module in Biomedical Sciences
- Inês Paciência et. al. (2019) Exposure to indoor endocrine-disrupting chemicals and childhood asthma and obesity