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Castor oil is an oil made from “castor beans” — the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant. Castor oil is commonly used in traditional medicine and as a food supplement.

A castor oil pack is a piece of wool or a cloth soaked in castor oil so you can apply it on the skin. The cloth may be cotton flannel or other dense material that can soak up a lot of liquid.

People use this against a number of ailments, including skin conditions, blood circulation problems, and digestive issues.

You can make and use your own castor oil packs with a few materials.

Naturopath practitioners recommend looking for hexane-free castor oil.

Ingredients and supplies

To make your own, you’ll need these items:

  • castor oil
  • unbleached wool or cotton flannel
  • medium container or bowl
  • tongs
  • scissors
  • plastic sheeting, such as a small tablecloth or garbage bag

Directions

  1. Cut the wool or cotton flannel into rectangular pieces, about 12 inches by 10 inches. You can also cut them into strips or smaller squares depending on where you’ll use them.
  2. Use at least three to four pieces of cloth to make a pack.
  3. Pour castor oil into the container. You should be able to completely soak a piece of the wool or cotton flannel in the castor oil.
  4. Drop one piece of the cloth into the oil until it’s completely soaked.
  5. Use the tongs to pick up the cloth in the container. It should be dripping with castor oil.
  6. Lay the soaked cloth flat on the plastic sheet.
  7. Soak the other two or more pieces of cloth in the same way.
  8. Add the oil-soaked cloths flat on top of the first one.
  9. Once you’ve soaked and layered each cloth, you’ve made a castor oil pack.

Castor oil pack options

You can buy castor oil online. If you don’t have the chance to DIY castor oil packs, you can also shop for castor oil pack kits.

  1. Lay down on a large towel or sheet to help catch any castor oil drops.
  2. Place the castor oil pack on the area to be treated. For example, for constipation or other digestive problems you’ll likely place it over your stomach area.
  3. Place a small plastic sheet over the castor oil pack. This helps to heat it and press it against your skin.
  4. You can place a hot water bottle or heating pad on top of the plastic for more heat if you wish. Make sure you don’t fall asleep while heating the castor oil pack as this can lead to burns or other injuries.
  5. Leave the pack on for about 45 minutes to an hour.
  6. Remove the pack and wipe the area clean with a warm damp towel.
  7. You can store the castor oil pack in the container used to soak them. Cover and refrigerate. Reuse each castor oil pack up to 30 times.

Some people may be allergic to castor oil. It may cause a skin rash or reaction when used on the body. If you haven’t used a castor oil pack before, do a patch test:

  1. Rub a few drops of castor oil into your skin and leave on for 24 hours.
  2. If you don’t have any reaction, a castor oil pack should be safe to use.

Cautions with castor oil packs

  • Avoid using castor oil packs if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The effects of castor oil on a baby aren’t known.
  • Don’t heat a castor oil pack in the microwave. The cloth and oil can smoke or catch on fire.
  • Don’t use castor oil packs on a recent injury or on open or irritated skin, such as scratches or cuts that are healing.

Castor oil packs are used outside your body, with or without heat. The idea is that a castor oil pack is soaked with more oil than you can simply rub on your skin. This allows it to better absorb into your skin.

There are ideas that use of the pack externally can also help internal issues. However, there’s little or no research to support the use of castor oil packs for internal conditions.

Skin benefits

Ricinoleic acid, a major component in castor oil, has analgesic properties, which may help soothe sunburns, bug bites, or allergic rashes.

The anti-inflammatory effects of castor oil may help bring down skin redness, puffiness, and itching.

Additionally, castor oil is a good moisturizer and helps to seal in skin’s moisture. This can help heal dry, chapped skin and lips, and plump up fine lines and wrinkles.

Constipation

People sometimes take castor oil by mouth as a laxative. In this way, castor oil is used to help bowel movements and empty the stomach.

Using external castor oil packs may also help treat constipation.

A small medical study in Turkey tested the use of castor oil packs to treat severe constipation in older adults. The adults in the study used castor oil packs for 3 days.

The researchers found that using the packs didn’t change the number of bowel movements, but it did make them easier to pass, softer, and reduced constipation symptoms.

Joint pain

Pain in the knees, wrist, fingers and other joints may be caused by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Inflammation can lead to pain and swelling in these types of arthritis.

Some people use warmed castor oil packs on the painful joint to help bring down inflammation and drain away blocked fluids that may cause more swelling.

While there’s no clinical evidence for the use of castor oil packs in this way, ricinoleic acid may reduce inflammation and help soothe pain for many joint conditions.

Liver and gallbladder health

The liver is the main cleansing organ in your body. It breaks down and gets rid of toxins, old cells, and other waste. It makes white blood cells that your immune system needs to fight germs.

The liver also makes a digestive fluid called bile that helps break down fatty foods so they can be properly used by the body. Bile flows from your liver to the gallbladder and is stored until it’s needed to digest foods.

Some natural practitioners recommend using a castor oil pack on the abdomen over the area of the liver. The idea is that the pack may help the liver move particles and cleanse the body.

Medical research is needed to confirm use of a castor oil pack to help your liver and gallbladder stay healthy.

Medical research shows that castor oil has some benefits. These include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal qualities. More research is needed on how helpful castor oil packs are for various ailments.

See your doctor for treatment if you have an infection or a chronic medical condition like arthritis, asthma, or constipation. Castor oil packs can’t treat any medical condition.

You might try castor oil packs for mild symptoms or along with other medical treatment as prescribed by your doctor.