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Is castor oil cleansing a washout?

Is a Solution for:
Dull Skin, Oily Skin
July 23, 2009 Reviewed by Marta 4 Comments

Cleansing with castor oil seems to garnering cult status, with websites devoted to it and message boards clogged with comments and questions. For the uninitiated, the idea is to mix one part castor oil with two parts olive, sunflower or other oil, spend an inordinate amount of time massaging into your face and then wipe off with a facecloth soaked in hot water. My rosacea is breaking out at the very idea and, anyway, I've always thought castor oil was a laxative. It suddenly struck me that castor oil cleansing is something Gywneth Paltrow might do. Wickedly, I searched on "castor oil cleanse gwyneth paltrow" and found that she swigs half a cup of the stuff to detox! Close enough, I say.

So, is there anything to castor oil face cleansing? Not surprisingly, the information about castor oil is mostly vague - "it's a great natural healer that has been used for centuries" - and contradictory "it's a wonderful emollient and moisturizer" and "it is very drying of the skin". Getting to the root of this oil's properties wasn't going to be easy.

Castor oil is indeed a laxative and has historically been used to induce labor. However, it is also used in the making of soap, so perhaps there is some magical cleansing property to castor oil. It turns out that castor oil is mostly - and I mean 95% - ricinoleic acid. This is a fatty acid that has a couple of notable qualities. The aforementioned purgative effects are due to "membrane-disruptive effects of detergent-like molecules, such as sodium ricinoleate (a 'soap')". Ricinoleic acid is basically a powerful antibacterial. Perhaps that's why it makes a good contraceptive gel.

Unless you have a Howard Hughes-like aversion to germs, rubbing your face with castor oil just seems like overkill.

If you still want to embark on castor oil cleansing routine, bear in mind that castor oil helps other ingredients to penetrate the skin (so be careful what you use it with or follow up with). Perhaps you should also spare a thought for the people who harvest the castor oil plant in the first place. The seeds contain ricin, which is only slightly less toxic than plutonium - a single molecule can disrupt a human cell. In addition, the allergenic compounds found on the plant surface can cause permanent nerve damage. Worry not that ricin makes into the oil; it does not. However, the workers in Brazil and India are continually exposed to this hazard.

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  • July 24, 2015

    by Trisha

    I tried pure castor oil in 2013 it didn't do anything good or bad for my skins or my hair. I now 2015 mix just as stated sunflower oil mixed with olive oil and the castor oil I was able to clear my discoloration and acne. Also I did add a drop of tea tree oil and a drop of lavender oil. This method works great for me because I have extremely dry skin on my face and dry hair! It took me many years to find this method and I will always use it. At first I did it daily and now I do it 2/3 times a week. The rest of the time I use cetaphil.

  • December 8, 2010

    by Gabi

    I've found castor oil to be very drying on my skin, and I have oily, acne-prone skin. And by drying, I mean the waxy kind, not the no-more-pimples kind. After experimenting, I found that apricot kernel oil is fabulous for acne-prone skin. Here's my method: http://mychemicalpeel.blogspot.com/2010/12/oil-cleansing-method.html

  • August 24, 2009

    by Alice Baxter

    If you read the oil cleansing method properly, it recommends you mix castor with another carrier oil like jojoba or rosehip. It was never meant to be used pure.

    I have been using ocm for many months and it has cleansed up my face really well. I think it's really effective in cleansing and really does purge out the dirt and remove any oils, make up on my face.

    Many big brands also do sell oil cleansers and it has been in the market for a long time.

  • July 30, 2009

    by dianna

    i am fascinated by castor oil! i use it on my skin at night and it really does help wrinkles look smoother and your skin look more toned. i am 49 and have tried many other things including commerical products and other oils to achieve this and castor oil does it better than most of them.
    i do have misgivings about using it - pretty much from what you said about the workers and also i somehow feel that castor oil sort of builds up in your skin - but i really don't see how. with continued use however you skin definitely feels thicker - so maybe this is what gives the illusion of build up.
    thanks for the article.
    btw - the OCM didn't work for me at all.
    castor oil being extremely emolient attaches itself to oils and pulls them out of your skin. it was entirely too cleansing for me to use as a cleanser.

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