Castor oil is a plant oil derived from the castor bean. Although it's often thought of as an unpleasant laxative, castor oil has beneficial uses for the hair and skin. Despite being an oil, it actually has cleansing and antibacterial properties that make it a popular ingredient in soaps, and it can be used in alternative ways to benefit the skin and hair.
Oil Cleansing Method for the Face
Castor oil is a component in a facial cleansing routine called the oil cleansing method, which is considered an alternative to traditional skin-care regimens. The theory behind the oil cleansing method is that "washing" the face with oils will help get rid of dirt and oil better than washing with soap and water, because oil dissolves other oil more effectively. Although this theory has not been scientifically proven, the oil cleansing method may be worth a try if you're unsatisfied with your current skin-care products. Castor oil is used due to its cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties, but may actually dry out some skin types; to clean your skin with the oil cleansing method, mix a small amount of castor oil with an equal amount of olive oil and massage into your skin. Wipe clean with a wet, warm washcloth.
The use of castor oil for hair has its roots in ancient Egypt, according to the e-museum at Minnesota State University. Egyptian women used castor oil, along with rosemary, sweet almond and fir oils, to stimulate hair growth. Today, it's recommended in a manual on African children's skin and hair care from the University of Pittsburgh. In infants of African descent, castor oil can be used as a hair conditioner; apply after shampooing and comb through with a soft-bristle baby brush. It can also be applied to children's hair before shampooing to combat dandruff and/or dry scalp.
Castor oil has many commercial uses, including several in the cosmetics industry. It can be derived into synthetic flower scents, making it useful for perfumes, according to an article from Palomar College; and it helps dissolve dyes as a component in lipsticks.