Castor oil is used as an ingredient in several products, owing to its medicinal and cosmetic properties. The seeds of castor contain ricin, a toxin that makes unprocessed castor oil inedible. But the refined or processed castor oil is free of this toxin and is used for acne, hair growth, and as a laxative to ease constipation in adults.
But is it safe to use castor oil for babies? In this MomJunction post, we tell you about using castor oil for babies, its side effects, and precautions to take before using it.
Is Castor Oil Safe For Babies?
The US Food and Drug Administration has categorized castor oil as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and effective as a stimulant laxative, though clinical trials are still underway to understand its mechanism (1).
The FAO/WHO Joint Committee on food additives established an acceptable castor oil intake of 0-0.7mg/kg body weight a day for adults, while the dosage for babies is not certain yet. So, consult the pediatrician before giving the baby castor oil for oral consumption. Even though the topical application of the oil is relatively safer, we recommend you talk to the doctor before going ahead with that.
The oral use of castor oil for a newborn baby could be dangerous and must be avoided (2).
For older babies, castor oil may be given only if recommended or approved by a pediatrician. The dosage of the oil will depend upon the purpose of the use. In the next section, we give you a list of ways in which castor oil has been traditionally used for babies.
Traditional Uses Of Castor Oil For Babies
A baby’s skin is very delicate and continues to develop at the cellular level until a certain age (3). So, it needs special care. Castor oil has ricinoleic acid, along with certain salts and esters, which function primarily as skin-conditioning agents.
This property of castor oil, when applied topically, may help moisturize the baby’s skin naturally. The topical use of castor oil for babies is not uncommon. It has been a part of traditional skincare practices followed for ages. It is also known to soothe irritated skin and is used for diaper rashes.
Many traditional hair care practices involve topical use of castor oil for babies, as the oil contains anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties that can help prevent bacterial or fungal infections of the scalp (4). It is also believed that castor oil stimulates circulation and thus promotes hair growth, as it contains vitamin E, nine essential fatty acids, and oleic acids besides minerals and enzymes.
However, the effectiveness of the oil in aiding hair growth in babies is not backed by clinical research.
Constipation is a common problem in babies and children. Before using castor oil or any other laxative, dietery changes should be made to relieve constipation. Intake of castor oil is believed to provide relief for constipation and thus is used as a common home remedy for it. According to FDA’s Over-the-Counter Drug Review Ingredient Status Report (2003), castor oil is classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and effective for use as a stimulant laxative.
If your baby tends to be constipated, oral consumption of castor oil could be a home remedy, but only after a thorough consultation and approval of the pediatrician.
Note: Oral consumption of castor oil in infants poses the risk of lipoid pneumonia and must be avoided unless directed otherwise by your pediatrician (5). Lipoid pneumonia occurs due to aspiration of the oil due to ingestion.
Some people use castor oil for their babies to get symptomatic relief from colic due to constipation (hyperperistalsis).
The remedy involves warming a bottle of castor oil by placing it in a hot water bath. Once the oil is moderately warm to touch, it is used to massage the baby’s abdomen in a clockwise motion. This method of massaging with the oil has been traditionally used to provide relief for colic in babies; however, its effectiveness has not been clinically proven.
There are no clinical studies suggesting that topical application of castor oil can give babies relief from colic. So, consult your pediatrician even for topical use of the oil for babies.
The health benefits of castor oil are known mostly by experiential approaches, but not backed by scientific research. So, it is always essential that you consult the baby’s doctor before trying castor oil for your baby.
Side Effects of Castor Oil
Like many other ingredients, castor oil may also cause some side effects:
- Mild allergic reactions on the skin, such as rashes or itching (or hives) (6)
- Severe allergic reactions like swelling of face, lips, or tongue
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Nausea, vomiting
- Stomach pain
Use the oil minimally after consulting the pediatrician, and if you notice any reactions, contact your doctor.
Precautions While Taking Castor Oil
Even if the pediatrician recommends the use of castor oil, you may follow a few precautions before using it for babies:
- Castor oil can be an allergen. So, a patch test is recommended before use (7).
- Pick a variant of castor oil after careful evaluation of the baby’s needs. The varieties available are based on the refining process and include raw, cold-pressed, chemical extracted, Jamaican black and hydrogenated. Check with a pediatrician for recommendations.
- Castor oil can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients and vitamins; thus, its oral use is not advised within two hours of meals (8). In any case, avoid oral consumption of the oil unless the pediatrician approves it.
- Taking castor oil on an empty stomach hastens its effect when used as a laxative. It takes around two to six hours to show results, so do not give it to your baby at bedtime as it could disturb your baby’s routine. Generally, its results slow down if it is consumed with the food. So, consult your pediatrician about the suitable time of ingestion for your baby.
- Chilling castor oil in the refrigerator for at least an hour may reduce its unpleasant taste (9). It is advised to mix the recommended dose of castor oil into a full glass of cold orange juice just before it is taken as that increases its palatability. You can also consider flavored preparations of castor oil that are available in the market.
- Before you plan to mix castor oil in any other medium, consult a pediatrician to avoid possible food reaction/ allergies or intolerance.
Castor oil is one ingredient that has been used as a remedy for several ailments in adults but after careful consideration. When you want to use it for babies, you must exercise extra caution. To ensure the baby’s well-being, always check with the baby’s pediatrician before trying a home remedy.
Have you ever used castor oil for your baby? Share your experiences and suggestions with us in the comments section below.
2. Castor; Drug and Lactation Database; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2019)
3. Teresa Oranges et al.; Skin Physiology of the Neonate and Infant: Clinical Implications; National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2015)
4. A Jadhav et al.; Herbal Hair Cosmetics – An Overview; World Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences
5. Ujjal Poddar; Approach to Constipation in Children; Indian Pediatrics (2016)
6. Castor Oil Oral Solution; Cleveland Clinic (2017)
7. Michel Verheyden et al.; Contact Allergy to Castor Oil, but Not to Castor Wax; MDPI
8. Assessment report on Ricinus communis L., oleum; European Medicine’s Agency
9. Maurizio Clementi et al.; Gastro-intestinal Medications , Hyperlipidemic Agents and Spasmolytics (2015)