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.