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.

Unrefined cottonseed oil contains a toxin called gossypol. This naturally occurring toxin gives the unprocessed oil its yellow color and protects the plant from insects. Unrefined cottonseed oil is sometimes used as a pesticide.

While gossypol been linked to infertility and liver damage, the toxin is removed during processing. Cottonseed oil goes through an extensive refining process which removes the threat of gossypol poisoning.

Cottonseed oil is used in cooking and is also used as a home remedy for certain skin conditions and ailments. This oil is high in polyunsaturated fat which can help lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol).

It also contains saturated fat, which has the opposite effect on cholesterol and may increase the risk of heart disease.

One tablespoon (14 grams) of cottonseed oil contains 7 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. According to American Heart Association guidelines, this is an acceptable amount of saturated fat in a vegetable oil.

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
  • margarine
  • mayonnaise
  • salad dressing

Cottonseed oil is also a popular ingredient for baking. It provides a solid fat index for shortening, making for baked goods that are 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.

Some processed foods may contain partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats, which raise your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Always read the label on packaged foods so that you can limit your intake of these ingredients.

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 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:

  • moisturizing
  • anti-aging
  • 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 skin 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.

However, these are preliminary studies and more research is needed. As of yet, there’s no science-backed reason to replace your other cooking oils with cottonseed oil.

Anticancer effects

Gossypol is a toxic compound found in unrefined cottonseed oil. Its anticancer effects have been studied for years, and the research continues. Gossypol is removed from cottonseed oil during the refining process, so the amount that’s left in cooking oil is almost none at all.

Animal and human studies have found that gossypol prevented tumor growth and spread in some breast cancers.

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. One older study also showed that gossypol reduced tumor growth and slowed or killed three prostate cancer cell lines.

Human trials have suggested potential benefits for slowing the progression of certain cancers, including gastroesophageal carcinoma.

Lowers inflammation

Some research in animals has suggested that cottonseed oil may reduce inflammation. Specifically, rats injected with cottonseed oil had lower markers of inflammation after a stroke-like brain injury.

In humans, 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. However, cottonseed oil contains only 18 percent monounsaturated fat. The Arthritis Foundation recommends other oils that have anti-inflammatory properties, including:

  • 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.

In a small 2018 study, healthy men had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels after following a diet rich in cottonseed oil for 5 days.

However, cottonseed oil is also higher in saturated fat than other vegetable oils, which can have the opposite effect. There are other heart-friendly oils available with more evidence to back their use.

Wound healing

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.

Hair growth

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.

Unrefined cottonseed oil contains a toxin called 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
  • loss of appetite

However, cottonseed oil for cooking is refined. The refining process removes the gossypol toxin.

Cottonseed oil allergies

Cottonseed oil allergies are rare, but possible.

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 may have some potential health benefits. But other vegetable oils, such as olive oil and avocado oil, have considerably more evidence to back their beneficial effects.