Influencers on TikTok claim the vegetable oil promotes eye health. However, ophthalmologists say the risks aren't worth any minimal benefits.
Ophthalmologists are issuing a warning not to use castor oil as a way to treat vision problems amid claims circulating on TikTok.
In its heyday, castor oil was considered a jack-of-all-trades home remedy, used as a laxative, a moisturizer and even as a chest rub to ease lung congestion. Now, it is making a comeback as some influencers on TikTok claim they are using castor oil as treatment for vision problems.
However, ophthalmologists are sounding the alarm, according to an NBC News report, with dozens of videos on the social media platform receiving millions of views showing people rubbing castor oil over their eyelids, across their eyelashes and under their eyes to help treat issues like dryness, floaters, cataracts, poor vision, and even glaucoma.
Castor oil is a type of vegetable oil extracted from the seeds of the castor bean plant, and it has been used for thousands of years in traditional and folk medicine to treat a range of issues from bronchitis to skin infections.
It's considered safe to take as a laxative, but because of potentially severe side effects like vomiting and dizziness, castor oil isn't widely used anymore.
Despite warnings, TikTokers still promote it. One woman claimed that after two weeks of use, she doesn't need to wear reading glasses as often, while another said it prevented an eye infection from progressing.
Castor oil on store shelves are not meant to be used on the eyes and could contain dyes, preservatives, fragrances or other ingredients that can cause irritation or infection. It also may not be sterilized.
Limited research involving small sample sizes and no control groups have found eye drops formulated with a low concentration castor oil mixture helped with dry eyes and blepharitis, or inflammation of the eyelids, but experts warned of the low quality of the research, according to the report.
“We just can’t make a recommendation for something that has very little evidence behind it,” said Ashley Brissette, MD, MSc, FRCSC, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said in a statement. “Castor oil is not a cure-all. If you have concerns about your eyes, you need to see an ophthalmologist.”
Castor oil does make a great moisturizer though, Brissette said. It contains ricinoleic acid — a type of fatty acid that prevents water loss through the skin — a reason why it's found in soaps, cosmetics, and lotions.
Moreover, Vicki Chan, MD, a practicing ophthalmologist in Los Angeles, said in a statement that castor oil does not have any effect on cataracts or glaucoma.
“These conditions occur inside the eyeball,” Chan said, “so even if you put a drop of castor oil on your eye, it’s not going to seep in and dissolve or fix anything.”