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I know, I know: We're constantly bombarded with reports of miracle hair growth oils and shampoos and conditioners that promise to reinvigorate our scalps, wipe out build-up, and generally change our hair forever. But before you write off castor oil as yet another beauty fad, consider that this ingredient has a centuries-long history that dates all the way back to ancient Egypt. Plus, castor oil is backed by dermatologists and hair experts as an effective way of quenching dry strands and potentially stimulating healthy hair growth. Curious? We were, too. So we tapped the experts to get more intel about using castor oil in your hair.
The Benefits of Castor Oil
Atlanta-based dermatologist Tiffany L. Clay, M.D. explains that if you looked at the molecular structure of castor oil, you'd see that it's a glycerol with a long-chain fatty acid. So what does this mean? Simply put, fatty acids are excellent at nourishing hair follicles. The outer layer of the hair shaft is covered in tessellating, scale-like structures called cuticles, and when the hair is damaged, those become flayed and flared, resulting in frizz and dullness. Castor oil, however, "can seal and allow the cuticle to lie flatter," according to Clay, resulting in better shine and decreased frizz.
Castor Oil for Hair Growth
"While there are currently no conclusive clinical studies proving that [castor oil] causes hair to grow faster, we do know that castor oil stimulates prostaglandin E2, which causes vascular dilation and increased circulation, which could help to stimulate follicles," says Dr. Marcus. "Another prostaglandin, PGD2 has been shown to be increased in those with hair loss, and castor oil is known to inhibit PGD2. While we are still unsure whether or not these actions cause hair to grow faster, at the very least it may help prevent breakage, contributing to overall length of the hair."
NYC-based dermatologist and hair loss specialist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, M.D. agrees. "There is some proposed benefit of castor oil with improving penetration of topicals and even hair growth," he says. "That being said, I don't think the scientific evidence is there to make any sizable claims, particularly for stimulating new hairs." If you're suffering from hair thinning or hair loss, Dr. Bhanusali says, "I can't stress enough how important it is to go see a board-certified dermatologist. We now have so many new options and it's much easier to create a comprehensive plan for early hair loss than later in the game."
In short, much like a hair growth shampoo, while castor oil alone won't cure hair loss or thinning, it can support hair health, plus make your scalp a better environment for hair growth and retention in the long-term.
How To Apply Castor Oil
For use as a leave-in treatment, Dr. Clay recommends warming a small amount of castor oil between your palms and smoothing it along the ends of your hair on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, for use as a deep conditioner, Dr. Marcus says, "Before washing your hair, I recommend applying it to dry scalp and hair, covering with a shower cap, leaving in for 20 minutes, and then shampooing and conditioning as normal."
However, as with any hair oil, it's important to start small and be aware of how your hair type responds to oil products. "For those with coarse, curly or dry hair, they may wish to apply castor oil to the ends of hair and leave in, as it’s a fairly light oil," says Dr. Marcus. "For those with fine or thin hair, though, they’ll probably prefer to use it as a pre-wash treatment as above, washing out so as to avoid weighing hair down and a greasy appearance."
And if you're not comfortable using pure castor oil for fear of overdoing it, there are a number of less intense options, including shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, and serums.
Best Castor Oils
Best Cold Pressed Castor Oil
Reviewers love this cold pressed castor oil from Briogeo, but several warn that, as with most oils, a little goes a long way. This may not be a large jar, but rest assured that it will last you for months to come.
Best Multi-Use Castor Oil
Who says hair growth applies just to the scalp? One pleased customer writes that they use it on their brows and lashes, and that they've noticed an improvement in fullness in just a few weeks.
Best Castor Oil for Hair and Skin
We love Shea Moisture for their moisturizing line of hair products, and this option is no different. According to reviews, it makes hair shiny with just a few drops, and one drop can be used to effectively moisturize your entire face, too.
Best Scented Castor Oil
This product is a great option if you love the fresh, soothing scent of lavender. Customers also write that the product is great for sensitive skin and scalps, and never causes irritation.
Best Castor Oil Shampoo and Conditioner
Best Castor Oil Shampoo
This is the castor oil I use, and I love the way it makes my hair shinier and noticeably less frizzy. It also doesn't have a strong smell―something I greatly appreciate, considering how much I love to wear perfume and hate to have my scents clash.
Best Castor Oil Conditioner for Scalp Health
Suffering from dandruff? Look no further. One reviewer raves that this product is the first that's been able to soothe her and her children's dry, itchy scalps, calling it a "life saver."
Best Overall Castor Oil Conditioner
I love the brand As I Am for both its effective, deeply conditioning hair products and for its humanitarian edge. This refugee-founded company is particularly popular among women with curly hair, several of whom write that this conditioner keeps their curls defined, bouncy, and healthy.
Best Castor Oil Hair Mask
Best Castor Oil Deep Conditioning Treatment
I can't even begin to explain the depth of my love for this hair mask. Once a week, I coat my curls in this subtly scented mask, pop a shower cap over it, and wash it out after about 20 minutes. It works wonders, and the tub has lasted me ages.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Rebecca Marcus is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology. She has nearly two decades of experience and completed her residency along with a clinical research fellowship at Columbia University. Since then, in addition to practicing dermatology, she has founded her own skincare line, Maei MD.
Dr. Bhanusali is an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist based in NYC. After completing his studies at Michigan State University's medical scholars program, he launched the digital healthcare companies Health Digital, HairStim Labs, and Skin Medicinals. He has since consulted for P&G, Neutrogena, Skin Ceuticals, Cerave, EltaMD, Skin Medica, Fast Beauty Co., and 86 Elm.
Dr. Clay is a board certified dermatologist who studied at Dillard University. She is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, Women’s Dermatologic Society, Georgia Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Atlanta Association for Dermatology, and Dermatologic Surgery and the National Medical Society. Dr. Clay is passionate about preventing skin cancer and providing high-quality care to oft-overlooked patients of color, and is currently based in Atlanta.