Affecting eight out of 10 women, cellulite is a skin condition in which the layer of fat cells just beneath the skin presses against weakened connective tissue that covers the fat layer, resulting in a dimpled appearance on the skin's surface. The only treatment the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has endorsed for cellulite is Endermologie, a European spa therapy that enlists a handheld massager designed to break up the fat layer over the course of several sessions. The Internet, however, is filled pages detailing home remedies for reducing or eliminating cellulite, one of which involves topical application of castor oil to cellulite-prone areas of your body.
Cellulite and Circulation
While there are different theories on why cellulite develops, Marcelle Pick, a founder of the Women to Women Clinic in Maine, says that stagnant flow of blood and lymph fluid causes the connective tissue covering the fat layer to weaken, lose elasticity and tighten down on fat cells under the skin. "When everything is running smoothly, your capillaries are delivering fresh nutrient-rich blood to the skin and the lymph is taking away waste and toxins," Pick says. "When things get clogged up and blood circulation decreases, this starves and weakens the surrounding tissue and causes fluid to be retained."
The Lymphatic System
The body's lymphatic system removes excess fluid and waste from your cells and the tissue spaces between them. It also works with the circulatory system to deliver nutrients, oxygen and hormones from the blood to the cells that make up the tissues of the body. When the lymph drainage slows and fluids begin to accumulate, the cells receive a reduced amount of oxygen and nutrition. "Fluid accumulation outside the cells also stretches the tissue in the area," says chiropractor and holistic practitioner David G. Williams. "The more it stretches and the longer it remains that way, the harder it becomes to correct the problem."
Castor Oil and Lymph Flow
Castor oil has been used internally and externally as a laxative and pain reliever and also to prevent virus, bacteria, yeast and mold growth. Williams says topically applied castor oil also can stimulate the lymphatic system. "When castor oil is absorbed through the skin....[t]he flow of lymph increases throughout the body." By improving your lymph circulation, you help your cells and tissues receive the nutrients and oxygen they need to remain healthy. "To return to fully nourishing your skin cells, you have to begin by removing the blockage and then allow the lymph to freely flow again," Pick says.
Castor Oil Packs
A study published in 2000 concluded that topically applied castor oil relieves pain and reduces inflammation. However, most of the research on castor oil's effect on the lymph system appears to be anecdotal. Even so, Christiane Northrup, an authority on women's health and wellnes, has promoted castor oil as part of therapy to relieve inflammation, stimulate blood circulation and remove waste at the cellular level. In her writings, she suggests using a castor oil pack, which requires you to saturate a piece of wool flannel in castor oil, apply it to the skin, cover the flannel with plastic, then apply a heating pad to the area to allow the castor oil to penetrate the skin.
Williams says "conditions known to be related to poor drainage of the lymphatic system will tend to benefit from this type of therapy." Thus, if Pick's thesis on the cause of cellulite holds true, topical castor oil may prove to be a successful home remedy for cellulite. Palma Pro, a professional resource for therapists using castor oil, recommends blending castor oil with grapefruit, lemon, cedar and lavender essential oils and rubbing the mixture into your skin as an efficient treatment for reducing cellulite.
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Cassie M. Chew is a multimedia journalist who covers politics, health care, education policy and technology news for print and online newspapers, magazines and trade press journals. When she's not pursuing a story, Chew enjoys independent film, biographies and books about nutrition and health. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.