The Castor Oil Pack – Benefits & How to Know if It’s Working

Castor oil packs have been around since the early 1900s as a natural therapeutic treatment for a variety of health conditions. The believed benefits of these packs range from balanced hormones to improved sleep to constipation relief and overall better digestion. 

This article will discuss the long history of the castor oil pack and its modern resurgence in popularity, review the available research to support its current health claims, and detail how to determine if the packs are right for you and whether or not they’re working.

What is castor oil?

Castor oil is a vegetable oil made from the castor plant (ricinus communis). There is evidence of this oil being used as early as 2000 BCE in ancient Egypt as a laxative, a remedy for baldness, skin care, and even to induce abortions. (1)

Since then other cultures, such as ancient Greece, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Arabic medicine, and the Mediterranean coast of Europe, have all been documented using castor oil for medicinal purposes. (1)

The poisonous lectin protein, ricin, is a component of the castor bean and has a history of being used as a biological weapon. However, the process of extracting the oil from the bean removes the protein and therefore the poisonous element. This leaves behind ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid and the active ingredient in castor oil. (2, 3)

Ricinoleic acid is an unsaturated fatty acid with special chemical properties. These properties make it soluble in alcohol, which allows it to act as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral agent. (4, 5)

Today castor oil is used in a variety of wellness-related industries, including skincare and cosmetics, haircare, and holistic wellness. 

small dark bottle of castor oil with the castor plant behind it on a white background

What is a castor oil pack? 

A castor oil soaked fabric, or castor oil pack, is meant to be wrapped around a portion of the body so that the oil can soak through the skin. It was first introduced in North America in the early 1900s by Edgar Cayce. He became well known as a healer at that time and for his use of these packs within the natural health community. (1)

Today, castor oil packs remain a popular holistic wellness practice to remedy ailments such as constipation and bloating, unbalanced hormones, poor sleep, suppressed immune system, and inflammation. We will review the role castor oil packs play in some of these conditions in the next section.  

How do they work?

There are three commonly discussed mechanisms for how this works, however there is insufficient research directly linking castor oil packs to any of these. (6)

  • The pack activates the lymphatic drainage system by adding light pressure to the skin above the liver (directly below the free ribs on the right side) and triggering “extrinsic pumping” when a person breathes in and out. 
  • The pack touches a network of nerves on the skin that are also associated with the liver. This activates a somato-visceral reflex (i.e. a soft tissue-organ reflex) that triggers the liver to start working.
  • The soft texture of the pack is received by the body as a “pleasant touch”. This stimulates the release of oxytocin (the hormone that promotes positive feelings) and helps shift the mind and body into a more relaxed state, which is needed for optimal liver function.

As discussed earlier, there are centuries of anecdotal evidence to the healing properties of castor oil and castor oil packs. In fact, I have personally seen improvements in the symptoms of my clients and myself after consistently using them (more on this later). 

But the scientific evidence to support their benefits is limited, i.e. more research needs to be done. It’s important to consider both when deciding whether or not to include castor oil packs in your wellness regimine.

What are the benefits?

The benefits focus on opening detoxification pathways (i.e. the liver, the lymphatic system, the digestive system), decreasing inflammation, and castor oil’s antibacterial/antiviral properties.

Let’s start with the benefits for the liver.

Liver detoxification

The liver performs over 500 essential functions in the body. These include regulating metabolism, making and breaking down hormones, making bile, storing excess carbohydrates as glycogen, and supporting the immune system. 

It is also the body’s sewage system and is responsible for breaking down and getting rid of all the toxins we ingest or absorb in a day. This role is commonly referred to as detoxification. 

As you can see, the liver is a busy bee, so it’s understandable that it can sometimes become overburdened by environmental and lifestyle influences. Things that can put additional strain on the liver include:

  • Chronic alcohol use
  • Environmental toxins (like mold exposure or air pollution)
  • Chemicals in cleaning supplies
  • Cosmetics and other self-care products
  • Medications (prescription or over the counter)

Castor oil packs are believed to help support the liver with its detoxification responsibilities so it can optimally perform its other functions. This support is accomplished by the three mechanisms described in the previous section.

Optimizing liver detoxification is the basis for all other benefits we will discuss.

Better digestion

As mentioned above, the liver is involved in many important functions throughout the body, including digestion. It is responsible for making bile, a greenish-brown fluid that is essential for breaking down and absorbing fat in the diet. 

It also helps regulate hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and cholesterol (a hormone precursor and component of bile), which all play important roles in the digestive process. Therefore, when the liver is functioning at its best it’s going to be able to better support digestion overall. However, there is some evidence to suggest that castor oil packs can help relieve constipation directly.

One small study in Turkey concluded that castor oil packs decreased the symptoms of constipation in the elderly. Their study participants self-reported that after 7 days of using the castor oil pack their stools were softer, they didn’t have to strain as much, and they were able to empty more completely during a bowel movement. (7)

Healthier periods & hormones

Castor oil packs are often recommended to people who are experiencing hormonal imbalances related to conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and those experiencing perimenopause/menopause.

Endometriosis & PCOS

One reason for this is the role the liver plays in the detoxification of estrogen. (8) Estrogen is essential for both the male and female sexes and is essential for maintaining sexual and reproductive health in all. However, it can become toxic when it starts to accumulate in the body. This is referred to as estrogen dominance.

Estrogen dominance is a characteristic of a variety of conditions, including endometriosis and PCOS. (9, 10) Therefore using a castor oil pack to assist the body with naturally filtering out excess estrogen via the liver, will help prevent harmful buildup.

Castor oil packs can also provide external comfort and help soothe the pelvic pain associated with endometriosis. This ties back to the third proposed mechanism for how castor oil packs work – the “pleasant touch” of the pack activates the vagus nerve and triggers the release of oxytocin, which is sometimes considered the “anti-stress” hormone.

Lastly, these conditions are often accompanied by digestive issues and as discussed earlier, castor oil packs have been shown to relieve constipation and bloating. They may also help reduce inflammation in the pelvic region and support cleansing of the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Perimenopause/menopause

The suggested benefits of castor oil packs for perimenopause and menopause are similar to those for endometriosis. They also provide an opportunity for you to create a self-care routine that helps you de-stress and relax. (11)

While these packs can’t relieve all the discomforts that come with this stage of life, they can complement and enhance the strategies recommended by your doctor.  

Improved sleep

Insomnia affects at least 10-30% of the population and is more common in women, especially following menopause. (12) In fact, issues with sleep are one of the most reported symptoms of women in menopause. This is usually related to hormonal changes, symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, mood disorders, and the natural aging process. (13)

Again, the mechanism that allows the castor oil pack to provide comfort, promote relaxation and trigger the release of oxytocin is one proposed explanation behind improved sleep. Another is its role in liver and lymphatic detoxification support.

Our liver is working hard between the hours of 1 and 3 AM while we’re sleeping to detoxify the body. If for any reason this process is slowed down or inhibited, the body will put extra energy towards detoxification and trigger the nervous system to wake you up. This is a possible explanation for why you might be waking up between these times on a regular basis. (14)

Based on these proposed mechanisms, supporting the liver and lymphatic system by using a castor oil pack should also help improve the quality of your sleep.

Who should use one?

Everyone’s body is exposed to environmental toxins all day everyday, so there are very few people who can’t see some benefit from using a castor oil pack. However, women often have even more exposure due to the chemicals, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, and other ingredients found in cosmetics and skincare products. 

Without free-flowing drainage pathways, it’s easy for the liver to get overwhelmed, which leads to toxins being recycled and not eliminated. When toxins are recycled they can build up and can lead to things like chronic inflammation, digestive issues, and other uncomfortable symptoms. 

Side Note: If you’re looking for non-toxic personal care products, the EWG is a great resource.

Groups of people that I usually recommend castor oil packs for include:

  • Those with chronic bloat, constipation and other IBS symptoms
  • Those with hormone-based conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, postpartum
  • Women in perimenopause/menopause 
  • Those with a sluggish gallbladder or their gallbladder has been removed
  • Those going through a SIBO/gut dysbiosis protocol
  • Those with chronic inflammation
infographic that compares who should use a castor oil pack and who should not

Who should NOT use one?

There is little to no research identifying the risks of castor oil packs, however there are a few groups I would recommend proceed with caution. As always, it’s important for everyone considering castor oil packs for their self-care routine to consult their healthcare provider first.

Those who are prone to skin rashes

Some people may be sensitive to the castor oil itself or the fabric being used in the pack. For this reason, it’s important to patch test by applying a small amount of the oil to your skin before wearing the pack for an extended period of time. 

During pregnancy

Castor oil has been used to induce labor through ingestion. (15) However, we do not know the impact castor oil being absorbed by the skin via a castor oil pack will have on the placenta or fetus.

Open wounds

It is not recommended to wrap a castor oil pack around any open wound or other highly sensitive area.

How to use a castor oil pack

Castor oil packs are very simple to use. 

  1. Poor about 1-2 tablespoons of castor oil in the center of the pad or fabric.
  2. Place the portion of the fabric with the oil on it over the targeted part of the body (i.e. the liver, pelvis, etc.).
  3. Wrap the rest of the pack or fabric around the body to secure it.
  4. Leave for at least 2 hours.

How long & how often should you use it?

Wearing the castor oil pack overnight at least 5-6 nights per week is best practice. This is because it’s usually easier to wear it for a longer period of time at night. It also can help relax the nervous system and allow for better sleep.

That being said, some people don’t tolerate the pack well at night because it makes them too hot or they find it uncomfortable. If this is the case for you, you want to wear it for at least 2 hours at a time.

How do you know if it’s working?

In my personal and professional experience, you can look for immediate benefits like improved sleep and relaxation within 1-2 weeks of using the castor oil pack consistently. Other benefits, such as constipation relief, detox support, and hormonal balance will take longer to become noticeable. 

Improved digestion and increased bowel regularity tend to be felt by most of my clients between 3-4 weeks with regular use. But healthier periods and balanced hormones usually take longer. I recommend 3+ months of consistent use to have an impact on these types of symptoms. 

I always remind my clients that there is never one magic remedy for anything. Similar to supplements, castor oil packs should be thought of and used as one tool in the tool box. Overall diet quality/variety, blood sugar balance, stress management strategies, etc. are all required elements of any healing journey.

Tips for enhancing the effectiveness

  1. Add essential oils. Essential oils, such as lavender, orange, and clary sage, can be great relaxation enhancers. Find a scent or combination of scents that you enjoy and have fun with it!
  2. Utilize heat therapy. Adding a heating pad or hot water bottle on top of the castor oil pack can be particularly helpful if you’re experiencing pain in the abdominal or pelvic areas. 
  3. Incorporate into an overall wellbeing practice. All benefits will be enhanced by also including detoxifying foods, personalized supplements, and lifestyle approaches. This includes adequate hydration, gentle exercise with sweating, and when it’s appropriate, infrared sauna.

**Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new wellness practice. 

infographic explaining how to determine if the castor oil pack is working

What to look for when picking out your castor oil & pack

  • Castor oil must be stored in amber glass, so don’t purchase or use anything that’s not stored this way. This is because when it’s stored in any sort of plastic (even BPA-free) it can absorb chemicals from the plastic and theoretically transfer them into your body (which is the opposite of what we’re trying to do!).
  • You also want to look for 100% pure, organic, and hexane-free for the highest quality and is free from all harmful chemicals.
  • Reputable sources:
    • Queen of Thrones – They have a great liver detox starter kit that includes a bottle of oil and a fabric pad that comfortably wraps around your abdomen.
      • Use my 10% discount code for orders of $59 or more: BLOATFREE_NUTRITION10
    • Heritage Store
  • You can also make your own castor pack using material made from organic, undyed wool or 100% cotton.

Final thoughts

While there is limited formal research supporting the health benefits of castor oil packs, castor oil has been used for medicinal and healing purposes for centuries. Some of the benefits and uses in modern day include liver and lymphatic detoxification support, improved digestion, balanced hormones, and improved sleep.

In my professional and personal experience, castor oil packs can be a helpful addition to a complete healing protocol or overall wellbeing routine. However, they may not be right for everyone. It’s always a good idea to consult your healthcare professional before starting a new wellness practice.

If you’d like to learn more about castor oil packs can benefit you, join my email list by completing my Why Am I STILL Bloated Quiz!

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

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