Should We *Really* Be Putting Castor Oil in Our Belly Buttons in the Name of Health (or for Any Reason at All)?

Photo: Stocksy/Blue Collectors

If you enjoy keeping up with wellness trends, you’ve probably fallen down what we like to call "the TikTok rabbit hole" at least once or twice. The latest and greatest (and sometimes not-so-great) health trends spread fast online, usually before they can even be approved or denied by doctors. The latest trend to catch on? Putting castor oil in your belly button—also known as navel oiling.

It might seem like a new concept, but castor oil has been on the scene for a while. Applying it to your body, and belly button in particular, is rooted in traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India. Castor oil itself has also been formally approved by the FDA as a natural laxative for constipation, per the Cleveland Clinic. The substance has even been historically used to allegedly induce labor and improve hair and skin (but these claims lack much evidence).

Experts In This Article

Now, TikTok wellness gurus and girlies alike are claiming that applying castor oil in the belly button could help with weight loss and have other health benefits. To get to the bottom of whether this health trend is legit, we chatted with two doctors who explained the sudden castor oil craze, and whether or not it's actually helpful (or harmful) for your health.

What are the purported benefits of castor oil in your belly button?

Turns out, in Ayurveda, the practice of putting castor oil in your belly button is pretty legitimate.

“In Ayurveda, the navel is considered a vital energy center, and they believe that by applying castor oil to this area, it helps with balancing doshas (categories of biological energies) and supporting well-being,” explains Saman Faramarzi, ND, a naturopathic medicine expert and advisor for Dose. “They also believe it aids in detoxification and supporting regular bowel movements. Some may even say it helps with constipation.”

According to Michael Aziz, MD, a primary-care physician and internist in New York City, "navel oiling is a practice that involves filling the belly button with oil to help with weight loss or other health concerns like period cramps, endometriosis, gut health, stress, and digestion. The process typically involves filling the belly button with oil before bedtime and letting it absorb overnight."

Yes, there's cultural significance to this practice. But that doesn't necessarily mean it results in the health benefits TikTok reels claim. In reality, our navels are fully sealed and made of the same skin as the rest of our bodies—they don't absorb or use castor oil in any special way. Plus, the practice itself can be messy. (Fair warning: Your pajamas and sheets may get stained!)

If it all sounds too good to be true (minus the stains)...then it likely is. Here's a breakdown of the purported benefits of navel oiling with castor oil, and whether or not there's scientific backing for each.

Claim 1: It helps with digestion

Castor oil has been found to effectively treat the occasional case of constipation, Dr. Aziz says. But this is only if you ingest it, not put it in your belly button. "When ingested, it can act as a laxative and promote bowel movements when taken with milk or water," he says. The recommended daily dose for constipation is 1 to 4 tablespoons for people ages 12 and older, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Of course, talk to your doctor before turning to castor oil when you're "backed up." It shouldn't be used as a long-term solution for digestive issues. According to the Cleveland Clinic, ingesting castor oil for long periods of time can damage the bowel and cause malnutrition. Plus, applying it to your belly button likely won't solve your bloating, gas, or diarrhea situation, either.

"If ingested in high doses, it can lead to diarrhea," Dr. Aziz says. Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Bottom line? If you're dealing with constipation, you're likely better off eating more fiber, drinking more water, and/or taking over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives like Miralax—with a doctor's permission, of course.

Claim 2: It relieves menstrual cramps

Cramps during your "time of the month" can be a real bummer. While some people claim using castor oil packs (i.e., rubbing castor oil into a cloth and wrapping it tightly around your torso) helps relieve their menstrual cramps, there are very few scientific studies to support this anecdotal evidence, per NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. There's also no evidence to show that putting castor oil in your belly button will relieve period cramps.

If you're having trouble with PMS cramping and pain, try using a heating pad, taking a warm bath, or taking OTC pain relievers like Advil for cramps instead.

Claim 3: It supports weight management

Castor oil packs are also rumored to be an effective method to lose weight, à la social media. But those claims can be debunked, too. Currently, there is no research to support the "castor oil in belly button for weight loss" narrative. While some social media users claim that castor oil is the magic bullet for weight loss, those claims are purely anecdotal and tend to just promote viral videos, Dr. Aziz says. If anything, weight loss is often a product of a healthy lifestyle rather than the oil itself.

If you're looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight for your body size, your best bet is to eat a balanced diet, get daily exercise, sleep well, and visit your doctor for regular checkups.

Claim 4: It helps treat wounds

Applying castor oil to your belly button will not necessarily heal your skin. But when the oil is combined with another herb called Peru balsam, it can help promote skin healing and treat certain types of skin ulcers and wounds, per the Cleveland Clinic. This combo typically comes in ointment form and is sold as a prescription under the name Venelex, and over the counter as Zarbee's Chest Rub.

This works to treat wounds (even superficial ones) by creating a moist environment conducive to healing. You would typically apply a thin film of ointment to the affected area twice daily, or as needed to help skin return to its normal state, per the NLM. But don't expect castor oil alone (especially in your belly button) to heal wounds or larger chronic illnesses/infections. If you think that's what you're dealing with, head straight to the doctor.

Claim 5: It supports skin health 

Who doesn’t enjoy smooth, glowing skin? Castor oil works on the skin as a natural moisturizer, Dr. Aziz says. “It contains ricinoleic acid—a monounsaturated fatty acid that draws moisture from the air into the skin. It can also help soothe acne breakouts by inhibiting bacterial growth.”

But before you start slathering pure castor oil on your face every day, be on alert for common side effects—like irritation or even an allergic reaction. (PSA to patch-test your skin-care products before applying them all over!) And unless you have really dry belly button skin—in which case, lotion is a better choice—you're better off not adding it to your navel in the name of a glowing complexion.

Side note: If you have smelly belly button skin, you can try washing it with antibacterial soap and water, and patting it dry to avoid built up moisture (instead of applying oil).

Claim 6: It boosts hair growth

Applying castor oil to your belly button will definitely not contribute to hair growth. But putting it on your scalp? Now that's up for debate.

“Castor oil contains omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E, and ricinoleic acid, which can help hydrate hair follicles and promote healthy hair growth,” Dr. Aziz says. Anecdotally, some people do claim they’ve seen a difference in hair growth by applying castor oil to their scalp. But there is still more concrete evidence needed in order to say for certain.

Risks and side effects of putting castor oil in your belly button

Potential side effects of using castor oil should be taken seriously. While it’s a versatile substance, it can cause internal and external damage if not used properly. Risks include skin irritation and allergic reactions.

“While the practice of applying castor oil to the belly button is an established part of Ayurvedic tradition, the scientific validation is limited. It's always advised to consult with your health-care provider before using it,” Faramarzi says.

The bottom line

So what happens when you put castor oil in your belly button? Not much—except for maybe a more moisturized navel. While the practice has been praised on social media for its myriad health benefits, there is not enough scientific evidence to support these claims. Plus, just because it's a versatile substance doesn't mean it's safe for everyone—it has to be used wisely (and carefully!).

Bottom line: Navel oiling with castor oil isn't going to change much about your health. “It can help with dry skin or make removing any dirt in the belly button easier, but any other claims are anecdotal and tend to promote viral videos,” Dr. Aziz says.

Finally, there aren’t many proven health benefits to castor oil in general. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying it (though we bet they'll suggest more effective options).

—reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Shilpa, S, and C G Venkatesha Murthy. “Understanding personality from Ayurvedic perspective for psychological assessment: A case.” Ayu vol. 32,1 (2011): 12-9. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.85716

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...