Castor Oil: The Sciency Bit

Structure of the major component of castor oil.

For those of you who have written in (you know who you are) and that really want to know about the science of castor oil. I thought I would elaborate a little. 

Most of the information I have put on this blog about castor oil, is purely observational and based on my personal experience with this product. I was unable to find any published cosmetic research on unrefined Jamaican black castor oil so here is some information on general castor oil.

Castor oil is a vegetable oil obtained from castor seeds (Ricinus communis).
Ricinus communis - Many of you will have seen these words on the back of many beauty products. This is the scientific name for the castor oil plant. Ricinus communis, is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. Ricinus describes the genus and Communis describes the species of the plant.
  • Castor oil is a triglyceride which are esters derived from glycerol and three fatty acids. 
  • Approximately ninety percent of the fatty acid content in castor oil is from ricinoleic acid
  • Ricinoleic acid (12-hydroxy-9-cis-octadecenoic acid) is an unsaturated omega-9 fatty acid that naturally occurs in mature castor plant seeds. 
  • Omega 9 fatty acids which have a conditioning and moisturizing effect on the scalp and the hair.
  • Essential fatty acids are needed for the development of healthy tissues. Our natural sebum contains essential fatty acids. Lipases derived from bacteria which are always available on the skin break down triglycerides to free fatty acids and glycerols. 
  • These "good" bacteria cleave the glycerol freeing the fatty acid from the triglyceride, producing free fatty acids. Free fatty acids create an antimicrobial layer that can protect our skin/scalp from "bad" bacteria and prevent infections. 
  • Microbial and fungal infection are two of the main causes of hair loss or dandruff. Using castor oil can help with dry scalp and skin conditions. 
Massaging straight castor oil onto the scalp and leaving on the hair overnight and then shampooing out the next day can greatly alleviate these problem. As well as ricinoleic acid, the other fatty acids in castor oil nourish hair and prevent scalp from drying by retaining moisture. 

  1. Aldrich Handbook of Fine Chemicals and Laboratory Equipment, Sigma-Aldrich, 2003.
  2.  "Castor", IENICA, Retrieved on 2011-02-16
  3.  "Skin-Conditioning Agents" by the Environmental Working Group
  4. Burdock GA, Carabin IG, Griffiths JC.(2006) Toxicology and pharmacology of sodium ricinoleate. Food Chemical Toxicology. 44(10):1689-1698. Epub 2006 . Review.
  5. Ogawa J, Kishino S, Ando A, Sugimoto S, Mihara K, Shimizu S.(2005). Production of conjugated fatty acids by lactic acid bacteria.J Biosci Bioeng.100(4):355-364
  6. Kishino S, Ogawa J, Ando A, Omura Y, Shimizu S. (2002) Ricinoleic acid and castor oil as substrates for conjugated linoleic acid production by washed cells of Lactobacillus plantarum. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 66(10):2283-6.

Now you know!

Embrace your inner AfroDeity 

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