Umm, just because something can move your bowels doesn’t necessarily mean that you can move it to your eyes. Yet, some people on TikTok have been telling you to rub castor oil around and potentially into your eyes, even though it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a laxative and not as an eye remedy. They’ve been claiming that castor oil can help treat all sorts of eye problems ranging from eye dryness to floaters to cataracts to poor vision to glaucoma. But before you eye this stuff and say, “Eyes, colon, what’s the difference,” take a closer look at how little real scientific evidence these TikTokers are providing to support their claims and the real risks of letting castor oil get into your eyes.
For example, one TikToker named Lauren Kissee posted a video where she started off by saying. “Do you know that castor oil can improve your vision. Welcome to my latest rabbit hole and yes there are studies behind it.” She then proceeded to describe how she applies castor oil to her eyelids and around her eyes:
After that, this TikToker claimed that castor oil can “increase the blood circulation in your eyes” and “it’s been known to help with any eye floater, cataracts and vision problems.” Really? Known by whom exactly? Kissee didn’t tell.
A little bit later in the video, she re-asserted, “Go down your own rabbit hole if you would like, but seriously there’s evidence behind this.” But throughout this “hole” video she didn’t provide a “hole” lot of real scientific evidence. In fact, she didn’t even provide a single concrete scientific study supporting anything that she said. Telling you that there is “evidence behind this” without offering even a sample of the evidence is sort of like someone insisting that a blind date is gorgeous without providing you with any pictures.
Another TikToker @mellysandford who describes herself as a “Castor Oil: Slay Queen” claimed that smearing castor oil on her eyelashes has made them thicker. OK, maybe drenching your eyelashes with an oily substance can make them seem thicker. But the same might apply to any oily substance such as gasoline, which, by the way, you shouldn’t put in your eyes. It’s not clear how think your eyelashes will remain after the oily substance is gone.
She also asserted that rubbing this stuff on her eyelids has alleviated her need to wear reading glasses:
During the video she coated her eyelids and eyelashes with what appeared to be castor oil as if she were basting a turkey. Of course, you can’t tell for sure whether this was actually castor oil that she was using because, surprise, surprise, not everything on social media is what it seems. Regardless, she applied this stuff so liberally that it could easily get into her eyes. She did add, “Don’t worry about it getting in your eye. It will get in your eye a little bit and that’s good because it reduces inflammation and improves blood flow to the eye.” Uh, don’t worry at all about castor oil getting into your eyes? Eye carumba, what a claim.
Those two TikTok posts certainly haven’t been the only one to promote such eye-popping and oily claims. The hashtag #castoroilforeyesight already has over 3.7 million views. That probably qualifies this whole castor oil thing as a TikTok trend.
Castor oil ain’t exactly snake oil. It’s a vegetable oil that comes from castor beans, the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant. Now, the name Ricinus may be reminiscent of the word ricin, which is a potent poison that’s been used to kill political enemies, which could sound alarming especially if you are a political enemy. It is true that this plant does contain the toxin ricin. But castor oil itself doesn’t have active ricin since the heating process used to prepare the oil effectively deactivates this toxin.
Castor oil is far from completely useless. In fact, it has quite a storied history with a number of different uses over the years. For example, ancient Egyptians used castor oil as a fuel for lamps, which was probably before your time. More recently, during British colonial times, British officials used to give castor oil to servants in India as punishment for not following directions. Fascists in Italy under Benito Mussolini did the same when dealing with their opponents because castor oil not only can taste nasty but also can lead to a number of different unpleasant and potentially debilitating issues like abdominal cramping, vomiting, bloating, and dizziness. In the mid-20th Century, parents were still giving their children castor oil as punishment. Of course, such uses are no longer commonplace today. It’s not a good look to a be a parent and do to your children what Fascists have done.
These days castor oil still had a wide range of different roles. It’s a precursor for many different industrial chemicals such as those that serve as cleansers, surface coatings, fuel, food additives, skin cleansers, and fragrances. Castor oil can also be an effective lubricant, meaning the kind that can help lubricate various types of industrial machinery and not other kinds of, ahem, more personal machinery. And yes it is a component of some eye drops. But more on that later.
As mentioned earlier, it’s main medical use has been as a laxative. When castor oil reaches your intestine, lipase enzymes there can break it down into ricinoleic acid, which can then activate EP3 and EP4 prostanoid receptors in the smooth muscle cells. This in turn stimulates more movement of the intestines to then push whatever is in there out into the toilet, assuming that you can get there in time. However, castor oil isn’t as widely used nowadays due to the fact that other laxatives have fewer side effects.
All of this does not mean that castor oil is safe to put into in your eyes. You wouldn’t tell someone, “Oh, you are using laxatives? My eyes are feeling a bit constipated. Can I shove those laxatives into my eyes?” And using eye drops that happen to contain some castor oil as a component is not the same as smearing pure castor oil around and into your eyes. When something is added to other things, the industrial processes involved may change the properties of each ingredient. Plus, such eye drops tend to have much smaller amounts of castor oil than what the TikTokers are telling you to use.
It’s not even clear whether castor oil will be beneficial for your eyes in any way. Sure, laboratory studies have shown that ricinoleic acid may have some pain-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties. Sure, such properties may mean that ricinoleic acid could somehow potentially promote wound healing as described in a 2019 publication in the journal Polymers for Advanced Technology. But just because something seems to work in cell culture in a laboratory doesn’t mean that it ready for prime time to be used on humans.
Ultimately, it’s important to view this and other TikTok health trends with a very critical scientific eye. After all, seeing something on TikTok or some other social media platform is sort of seeing it on a bathroom stall. You may have no idea who the person is, what his or her experience, training, and qualifications are and what that person’s business or political agenda may be. When someone claims that there are studies or evidence behind his or her claims, ask for those specific studies and evidence. Otherwise, consider what’s being said to be just another oily claim.