Cottonseed oil is a commonly used vegetable oil that’s derived from the seeds of cotton plants. A whole cotton seed contains about 15 to 20 percent oil.
Cottonseed oil must be refined to remove gossypol. This naturally occurring toxin gives the oil its yellow color and protects the plant from insects. Unrefined cottonseed oil is sometimes used as a pesticide. This toxin has also been linked to infertility and liver damage.
Cottonseed oil is used in cooking and is also used as a home remedy for certain skin conditions and ailments. Like olive oil, cottonseed oil is high in polyunsaturated fat which can help lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). But, it’s also high in saturated fat, which has the opposite effect on cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease.
Cottonseed oil is commonly used in processed foods because of its ability to extend shelf life. Some of these products include:
- potato chips
- cookies and crackers
- salad dressing
It’s also a popular ingredient for baking. It provides a solid fat index for shortening, making for baked goods that’re moist and chewy. It also helps achieve a creamy consistency in icing and whipped toppings.
Cottonseed oil is also used by many fast food chains for deep frying because it enhances the flavor of food instead of masking it. It’s also less expensive than other vegetable oils.
Cottonseed oil has many nonfood uses, too. In the 1800s, cottonseed oil was primarily used in oil lamps and to make candles. Nowadays, it’s used in insecticides, laundry detergents, and cosmetics.
Cottonseed oil may have economic benefits, but the saturated fat content makes it an unhealthy choice in comparison to other vegetable oils.
Cottonseed oil for skin
This is one use for cottonseed oil that isn’t considered controversial. Cottonseed oil contains high concentrations of vitamin E, fatty acids, and antioxidants that have many benefits for your skin, including:
- anti-inflammatory properties
Certain fatty acids increase your skin’s permeability. This allows your skin to better absorb other ingredients for better results.
Linoleic acid, which is one of the fatty acids in cottonseed oil, is a common ingredient in skin care products. It’s also used in antidandruff shampoos and after-sun creams because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s possible to be allergic to cottonseed oil. Place some oil about the size of a dime on your and rub in. If you have no reaction in 24 hours you should be able to use it.
There are dozens of unproven claims of benefits. Some of the claims are purely anecdotal, but there’s evidence to support others.
The anticancer effects of cottonseed oil and gossypol have been studied for years and the research continues.
Older animal studies found that gossypol improved the effects of radiation on prostate cancer cells. There’s also evidence that cottonseed oil may suppress cancer cells that have been resistant to multiple drugs. A 2018 study also showed that gossypol reduced tumor growth and slowed or killed three prostate cancer cell lines.
There’s a lot of evidence that diets high in monounsaturated fats can reduce inflammation. People who eat a Mediterranean diet high in monounsaturated fats have been found to have significantly lower levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood.
Inflammation has been linked to chronic disease, including heart disease.
Cottonseed oil contains only 18 percent monounsaturated fat, but the content increases to 50 percent when partially hydrogenated. In theory, cottonseed oil could have an anti-inflammatory effect similar to olive oil. This may help lower the risk of heart disease and improve symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
Though hydrogenated cottonseed oil is fairly high in unsaturated fats, the Arthritis Foundation recommends other oils that have anti-inflammatory properties, including:
- olive oil
- grapeseed oil
- canola oil
- avocado oil
- walnut oil
Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Along with lowering inflammation, the unsaturated fats in cottonseed oil may help lower your LDL and increase your HDL. This can improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, cottonseed oil is also higher in saturated fat than other vegetable oils, which can have the opposite effect. There are other, more heart-friendly options available.
Cottonseed oil contains high amounts of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant with many proven benefits for the skin, including faster wound healing. Vitamin E has also been shown to have a positive effect on skin ulcers, psoriasis, and other skin conditions and injuries.
This suggests that cottonseed oil may have similar effects, though you can find more potent sources of vitamin E.
Research has found that certain plant oils can help improve your hair’s health. The oils work by:
- moisturizing hair
- preventing protein loss
- protecting against styling and environmental damage
Healthy hair is less likely to break, which could help you grow your hair.
While this could apply to cottonseed oil, there’s no scientific evidence available on it specifically.
The controversy surrounding the consumption of cottonseed oil has to do with the dangers associated with gossypol.
Gossypol has been found to have several negative side effects, including:
- infertility and reduced sperm counts and motility
- pregnancy problems, including early embryo development
- liver damage
- respiratory distress
Cottonseed oil allergies
There’s no information available on cottonseed oil allergies, but there has been some research on hypersensitivity to cottonseed.
Based on older studies of patients attending allergy clinics, anywhere from 1 to 6 percent of those evaluated have reported a positive skin test to cottonseed extracts.
Cottonseed oil does appear to have some health benefits, but other vegetable oils, such as olive and canola oil, provide the same benefits without the high amount of saturated fat.