Hair Oil Series: Castor Oil –The Benefits
Castor oil was first introduced to me via cartoons. Usually, a naughty child would be forced to down a spoonful of the thick, bitter substance as punishment for some misdeed. Years later, I would be reintroduced to castor oil, not as a penalty, but rather, as a method of helping natural hair flourish.
Origin of castor oil
Castor oil comes from the seeds of the castor plant. The oil gets its name from “castor” the Latin word for beaver because it was originally used as perfume oil, in place of an oil that was derived from the perineal glands of beavers (remember, actual castor oil is plant-based).The oil was used for medicinal purposes as far back as the times of ancient Rome, China, and Egypt.
Benefits of castor oil
Nutritionally, castor oil contains nutrients like omega-9 fatty acids, ricinoleic acid, and undecylenic acid. Like shea butter, it is also high in oleic and linoleic oils. According to Curl Centric, this oil is best extracted through the cold press method without heating or processing, which keeps the active enzymes in the oil untainted and raw, allowing them to be more effective. Curl Centric also notes that in particular, the ricinoleic acid found in castor oil has been known to reduce hair loss, protect the hair and promote hair growth by increasing blood flow to the scalp.
All of these qualities make it an excellent product for those who are looking to retain length as well as defend their hair against outside damaging agents like weather and manipulation. SciencesHair notes that castor oil can prevent dandruff by restoring the pH level of the scalp and, directly applied, can prevent hair from becoming brittle by reversing the effects of omega 6 fatty acid deficiency. Castor oil’s antioxidants can also smooth the cuticle of the hair and decrease frizz.
Castor oil, like many other oils, helps keep hair soft and shiny by locking in moisture. Scientific research by Jachowicz and McMullen in the Journal of Cosmetic Science also noted that this oil can help increase hair's lustre and sheen. Black Girl Long Hair and Curl Centric both point to castor oil’s ricinoleic acid composition as the source of one of its other benefits–its healing properties. In fact, the plant from which the oil is derived was named palma christi due to the oil’s perceived ability to heal wounds and cure illnesses.
If you’ve watched enough YouTube videos, you know that many naturalistas swear by a type of castor oil known as Jamaican Black Castor Oil. Naturally Curly explains that the difference between Jamaican Black Castor Oil is that JBCO includes roasted castor beans in the oil, giving it its trademark color. Outside of composition, color and price (JBCO is slightly more expensive than regular castor oil), there is no measurable distinction between the two. Despite claims that this oil can thicken hair, biologist JC, who writes the Natural Hair Haven blog notes that there is no evidence to support this theory.
You should probably steer clear of this oil altogether if you have a tree nut allergy. It should also be applied topically and never ingested–it is a laxative! The oil is best used by massaging it into the scalp directly, but can also be mixed with other oils. It might also work better for you if you have thicker hair but women with finer hair can still benefit from the oil’s moisturizing and scalp health-promoting properties.
Although castor oil may have gotten a bad rap as the solution to naughty children, your hair will feel plush and pleasurable, rather than punished (one time for alliterative phrases!) once you start using it.