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Will Castor Oil Help Clear Up Your Actinic Keratosis?

A few readers report that applying castor oil to an actinic keratosis on their skin made the bumpy spot clear up and drop off.

Have you had a dermatologist examine the lumps and bumps on your skin? It is a good idea to have these checked periodically, especially if they have changed in any way. The doctor might diagnose some of the rough scaly patches on your skin as actinic keratoses. Could castor oil help clear them up? Some readers say yes.

Castor Oil and Baking Soda for Actinic Keratosis:

Q. I used castor oil mixed with baking soda to treat a prominent actinic keratosis that I’d had for years. It was gone after two days and hasn’t come back two years later. I can’t remember where I heard about this remedy, but others might want to know about it.

A. Actinic keratoses are pre-cancerous skin lesions. They are common on aging skin that has been exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and may feel scaly or rough. Sometimes they itch or burn. A dermatologist should examine all such spots from time to time, as they could be an early form of skin cancer.

You are not the first person to report that castor oil could help an actinic keratosis, though other readers did not include the baking soda. We could not find any published studies of this remedy, but it seems benign. If it doesn’t work, the dermatologist can use a more standard approach such as freezing it off (cryotherapy) or applying a medicine like 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream, imiquimod (Aldara) cream or ingenol (Picato) gel.

Dermatologist Recommended Castor Oil for Actinic Keratosis:

Q. I thought you should know that years ago my husband’s dermatologist told him to use castor oil on pre-cancerous spots on his face. They all just sort of fell off and he never had to have any removed surgically.

A. We have to admit that we are surprised a dermatologist would actually recommend castor oil for pre-cancerous skin lesions. Most skin specialists would treat such a condition with standard approaches such as cryosurgery (freezing the abnormal cells) or topical medications. Some dermatologists opt for scraping (curettage) followed by cauterization (electrosurgery). Others use a laser to remove the abnormal cells.

Does Castor Oil Help Anything?

We searched the medical literature for research on castor oil against actinic keratosis, which is a skin lesion resulting from sun exposure. Such spots are often categorized as pre-cancerous changes that can turn into squamous cell carcinomas.

We found one reference to an article published in 1982 in the journal Acta Pathologica, Microbiologica, Immunologica Scandinavica suggesting that castor oil (Ricinus communis) binding to abnormal skin cells could be a useful diagnostic tool. A more recent study suggests that castor oil has both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory activity (Current Drug Targets, Oct 1, 2011). We also found a reference suggesting that castor oil penetrates deep into the skin.

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Despite this, we could find no credible evidence that castor oil can eliminate actinic keratoses. On the other hand, if a dermatologist were to supervise such treatment and follow a patient with these skin lesions carefully over time, the risk appears to be very low. If castor oil did not help the lesions, there are lots of approved treatments the dermatologist could fall back on.

Do You Have Actinic Keratosis?

If you have spent a lot of time out in the sun, there is a reasonable chance you do have actinic keratoses (AKs). How would you know? Do you have places on your skin that feel scaly or rough, a little like sandpaper? A dermatologist should examine anything on the skin that has a rough patch or that feels uncomfortable when rubbed. Notably, it could be an actinic keratosis. Itching or burning are other symptoms to bring to the attention of a physician. Some AKs feel wart-like and look like a bump.

Helen B. noted:

“This treatment has been around a long time. 65 years ago my mother had a pre-cancerous spot such as you are describing on her nose. Her doctor told her to rub castor oil on the spot daily for ten days and if it did not come off it would need to be burned off.”

See for Yourself!

One of the very best websites for seeing skin lesions is SkinSight.com. To learn more about actinic keratoses and actually see pictures of this lesion, here is a link.

If you would like to learn more about the medicinal uses of castor oil for a range of conditions including warts, bruises, muscle pain, cracked fingertips, scars or skin tags, try clicking this link.

If you love quirky, unusual approaches for common conditions, you will find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies, a valuable resource.

Share your own experience with castor oil in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Graem N, "Ricinus communis agglutinin I binding to the cell membrane in benign, premalignant and malignant epidermal lesions." Acta Pathologica, Microbiologica, Immunologica Scandinavica, Section A, Pathology, Nov. 1982.
  • Aggarwal BB et al, "Identification of novel anti-inflammatory agents from Ayurvedic medicine for prevention of chronic diseases." Current Drug Targets, Oct. 1, 2011.
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