Cultures around the world have used castor oil for thousands of years as a natural healing remedy. In the Mediterranean, it was thought to increase a woman’s lactation, while in Africa it was used to treat stomach aches and inflammation. In South America, indigenous people used castor oil to prevent hair loss and heal skin wounds. Today, people make castor oil packs to treat a variety of health concerns, from premenstrual pain to belly bloat and arthritis pain. The topical treatment uses an oil made from the Ricinus communis plant, a woody shrub native to East Africa.
These ancient civilizations had no scientific evidence to back up their claims, but modern research has confirmed castor oil’s beneficial properties. And, more specifically, the advantages of castor oil packs.
“Castor oil is a plant-based oil pressed from castor beans, which are mainly found in India and Brazil,” says Taz Bhatia, MD, a board-certified integrative medicine physician and women’s health expert. The oil contains various nutrients, but it is particularly high in fatty acids that help ease inflammation throughout the body.
A castor oil pack consists of several pieces of unbleached wool felt or cotton flannel soaked in castor oil. To use the soaked cloths, you simply lie them on the area you want to treat and cover the cloth with plastic wrap (to keep warmth in and prevent messiness). You can also apply a heating pad on top to optimize penetration of the oil. Most doctors recommend leaving the castor oil pack in place for 30 to 45 minutes. (Keep scrolling for a more detailed how-to.)
Health benefits of castor oil packs
A castor oil packs allow you to reap the anti-inflammatory rewards of the oil by allowing it to absorb through your skin. While more research needs to be done, there are various potential health benefits of using castor oil packs, including:
Castor oil packs relieve constipation
People have been using castor oil as a laxative for hundreds of years, but castor oil packs provide similar benefits without a sudden or intense urge to use the toilet.
One study conducted by researchers in Turkey found that castor oil packs were an effective treatment for older adults with constipation.
In the study, participants used a castor oil pack for three days in a row. At the end of that period, researchers found that the seniors who used the castor oil packs also had softer stools that were easier to pass. The castor oil packs didn’t increase the number of bowel movements participants had, but they did reduce symptoms of constipation, like bloating and straining. (Click through for more natural constipation cures.)
Castor oil packs minimize menstrual cramps and pelvic pain
The effects of castor oil on period-related pelvic pain haven’t been researched in-depth, but many women use castor oil packs to relieve painful periods as a natural alternative to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
Castor oil packs ease joint pain
Castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties can relieve joint pain associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. One study, conducted by Indian scientists, found that applying castor oil packs to knee joints provided significant relief from knee pain.
50 women between the ages of 30 and 60 were asked to massage castor oil on painful knee joints for five minutes a day, then to use a hot water bottle to heat the area for 5 to 10 minutes. for two weeks. At the beginning of the study, 72% of women had moderate knee pain. By the end of the two-week period, only 24% of the women still had moderate knee pain; 76% had mild knee pain.
Another study, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, found that castor oil “can be used as an effective therapy in primary knee osteoarthritis.” Dr. Taz confirms these benefits, noting that “castor oil can help pain and reduce inflammation to a point. It contains ricinoleic acid that reduces swelling.” (Click through for more natural cures for joint pain and to learn how castor oil can relieve constipation that causes back pain.)
Castor oil packs help detox the liver
Your liver helps remove toxins from your blood so that they can be filtered out of your body. It also makes white blood cells to fight infection and creates a digestive fluid, called bile, that helps digest food.
It’s thought that applying a castor oil pack to your abdomen over the area of your liver can help complement these processes. That’s because ricinoleic acid also assists with nutrient absorption and digestion.
Adds women’s health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, New York Times bestselling author of over 35 books, “the compress helps remove toxins via the bile route.” She advises placing a warm castor oil compress below your belly button a few times a week while you relax to help your liver process toxins more effectively. (Click through for more natural ways to detox your liver.)
Castor oil packs keep skin looking radiant
“Castor oil acts as a moisturizing agent and rehabs the skin barrier,” says Dr. Taz. “It’s also antibacterial and can act as an antifungal — the cause of many skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema and dandruff.” Note: Don’t use castor oil packs on open cuts or wounds.
You can buy castor oil packs at the drugstore, but you can also make them on your own. All you need is a few ingredients and 15-20 minutes.
Ingredients for making a castor oil pack:
- Castor oil
- Unbleached wool craft felt or cotton flannel
- Medium-sized plastic container or mixing bowl
- Saran wrap, cling wrap, or a plastic trash bag
- Disposable tablecloth (to protect surfaces from the castor oil)
Step 1: Spread the tablecloth on a surface, like a counter, tabletop, or floor.
Step 2: Use your scissors to cut a large square of plastic from the trash bag or Saran wrap, at least 12 inches by 12 inches.
Step 3: Use your scissors to cut the wool felt or cotton flannel into 12″ X 10″ rectangles . The size of the rectangles depends on where you want to place the castor oil pack.
Step 4: Make at least four fabric rectangles. Anything less won’t absorb enough castor oil to work effectively.
Step 5: Pour the castor oil into the plastic container or mixing bowl. Make sure there’s enough oil to fully cover each piece of fabric.
Step 6: Drop the first cloth rectangle into the castor oil and allow it to become completely soaked.
Step 8: Use the tongs to remove the oil-soaked cloth from the container. If the fabric isn’t dripping oil, soak it for a little longer.
Step 9: Lay the oil-soaked cloth on top of the plastic trash bag or Saran wrap.
Step 10: Soak the other pieces of wool craft felt or cotton flannel the same way.
Step 11: Lay the other oil-soaked wool felt or cotton flannel pieces on top of the first piece
Step 12: Apply the oil-soaked cloths directly on top of a specific area of skin and use the Saran wrap or plastic bag to hold it in place.
What type of castor oil should I use for a castor oil pack?
There are many types of castor oil available at pharmacies and grocery stores. Dr. Taz recommends several brands, including NOW Solutions (buy on Amazon, $8.38) and Aura Cacia organic (buy on Amazon, $8.87). There are also companies that sell pre-made castor oil packs, like Queen of Thrones. (buy on Amazon, $65.97)
Step 1: Lay down on a towel or a sheet that’s okay to get dirty, as castor oil stains and some may drip out of the pack.
Step 2: Place the castor oil pack on the area of your body being treated. For example, if you want to eliminate belly bloat or treat constipation, lay the pack on your stomach. If you want to ease pelvic cramps or pain from endometriosis, lay it a little bit lower on top of your pelvic region.
Step 3: Let the castor oil pack sit. To increase its benefit, place a heating pad or a hot water bottle on top. Monitor the temperature. If the heating pad or water bottle gets too hot, it can burn your skin.
Step 4: Keep the castor oil pack in place for 45 minutes to an hour.
Step 5: Remove the castor oil pack and use a wet washcloth or baby wipe to clean up any oil that leaked onto your skin or clothing.
Step 6: Unwrap the Saran wrap or plastic trash bag covering the wool craft felt or cotton flannel. Then, put the cloth back into the container you soaked it in. Cover the container and keep it in your refrigerator. You can reuse the castor oil pack up to 30 times.
Castor oil packs present very few risks, but some people are allergic. If you have sensitive skin or a history of skin allergies, do a patch test before making and using a castor oil pack. To do that, rub a few drops of castor oil on your skin and let it sit for 24 hours. If the oil doesn’t cause your skin to itch or turn red, it’s probably safe to use.
If you plan on using a castor oil pack, there are several other safety measures to consider:
- Avoid using castor oil packs if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s not enough research to know how castor oil might affect your growing baby or breastmilk.
- Never heat up castor oil packs in the microwave, as oil-soaked clothes smoke or catch fire.
- Don’t put a castor oil pack on top of injured skin, like an open wound or a cut. Doing so can irritate the injury further or cause an infection.
Want to learn more about castor oil packs? Check out this story about a woman who cured constipation with a castor oil pack.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.