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Castor Oil??

Q. What do you think about castor oil? It is an ingredient in my favorite organic soap. I've read mixed things about it. That it contains a toxic protein called ricin at some stage of production but apparantly none of that remains in the final product. What do you think?
A. Castor oil as a finished product is not a dangerous ingredient, and is widely used in soaps, lotions, etc all over the world with a long history of safety. However, there are many hidden drawbacks to using the oil.

First of all, castor oil is in high demand because it's cheap and it has unique chemical properties that allow it to be used in many industries to make lubricants, inks, paints, greases, adhesives and other industrial products. Because of its high demand and low cost, the castor seed plant is, in many cases, genetically modified to increase yield and to obtain certain fatty acid compositions. Genetically modified crops, as you may know, can weaken ecosystems and deplete soils (among other side effects). In addition, these crops require fertilizers and pesticides which pollute the soil and groundwater. The use of a certified organic castor seed oil would of course not contribute to these issues. However, there is still the problem of the processing.

The castor seed contains the poison ricin. Ricin is only slightly less toxic to the body than radioactive plutonium! The oil extraction process removes the toxin from the oil, but the waste material has to go somewhere---it can end up in wastewater and landfills which then pollute the entire environment. Most of the worlds' castor oil is processed in countries that don't have strict environmental safety standards. In addition, there is no regulation of this castor bean waste (aka "mash") and it can get in to the hands of terrorist groups and be used in biological warfare.

In addition, there are allergenic compounds found on the plant surface that can cause permanent nerve damage, making the harvest of castor beans a human health risk for the workers involved. So, although as a finished product it's safe for use, we feel it's not a responsible ingredient to use because of the safety and environmental risks involved with the processing and harvest of the plant. We have found that other oils such as sunflower and coconut do just as good or better of a job at moisturizing skin and don't have these negative side effects!

In a nutshell:
1. Non-organic castor oil crops can lead to pollution and environmental upset through synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified crops.

2. Castor oil mash can pollute the environment.

3. Castor oil mash can be sold to terrorist organizations and individuals.

4. Allergens in the plant can cause harm to workers.


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Reader Comments (3)

Wow - this is great. You brought up a lot of points I hadn't thought of before. Thanks!

Wed, August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Hi Stephanie!

I live in Montreal. I am currently looking for a more natural shampoo. I have a hard time finding one with few ingredients. And I like chamomile because it helps keeping my hair blond naturally.

I found this shampoo:

Weleda - Calendula & Chamomile Shampoo.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, Cetyl Betaine, Alcohol, Hydroxpropyltrimonium Honey, Sodium Cocyl Glutamate, Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Citric Acid, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Fruit Extract, Sodium Chloride, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Sorbic Acid, Rosa Centiflora Flower Extract, Limonene* * Constituents of the natural essential oils

I have been using the following shampoo for a while:

Nature's Gate - Repleneshing Chamomille Shampoo

Ingredients: Water, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate , Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate , Lauryl Glucoside, Glycerin , Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Panthenol, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Borago Officinalis (Borage) Seed Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Hordeum Vulgare (Barley) Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Equisetum Arvense (Horsetail) Leaf Extract, Geranium Maculatum Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Polysorbate 20 , Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Glyceryl Undecylenate, Citric Acid, Fragrance*, amyl cinnama, hydroxycitronellal.
*Phthalate Free

Is any of these two shampoo's reasonable in terms of ingredients? I have consulted your Chemical Archive... but I find it really hard to find a shampoo that has the least chemicals as possible.

Or else, do you have a shampoo to suggest to me?

Thank you so much for your time and input!

Tue, January 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterM Lemay

I have found shampoo at trader Joe's having most natural ingredients & least expensive. Maybe you could add chamomile to it..?

Mon, January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterK maas

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