Croton Oil

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Croton oil is a dangerous yet quite useful oil. It is obtained from the flowering plant Croton. It is a poisonous oil, and can be lethal. It is mainly used to make chemical skin peels for exfoliating the skin. It is also used for a number of industrial applications.



Source

The source of croton oil is a flowering plant in the genus Euphorbiaceae. The plant is commonly referred to as croton, or rushfoil. Its name actually means “tick” . The oil was generally extracted using cold pressed method, but nowadays it is extracted using solvent extraction and other methods that provide better oil output.

Other Names

It is also known as crotonis oleum or croton tiglium oil.



Blends Well With

It is rarely used in aromatherapy. Croton oil blends well with essential oils of lavender and rosemary.

Properties

Croton oil has some unique and powerful therapeutic effects.

  • Irritant – It irritates the skin.
  • Exfoliant – It sloughs off the outer layer of skin.
  • Inflammatory – When applied to the skin, it causes inflammation and a sharp negative reaction.
  • Pain Inducer – It is the exact opposite of analgesic. It causes sharp pain when applied on the skin.
  • Purgative – When taken internally, it can leads to diarrhea even in the smallest amounts. It is used to purge the intestines but this requires expertise and knowledge of the right concentration to be used.
  • Cytocidal – Some species of Croton yield cytocidal properties. They kill individual cells, which can be beneficial in cancer treatment. [1]
  • Anti-helminthic – It is used to kill specific intestinal parasites.
  • Tumor – It contains a compound called phorbol esters. These have been identified to have tumor promoting effects. [2]
Croton tiglium L.
Croton tiglium L. (Image:Shutterstock)

Color and Aroma

It is yellowish in color with a hint of brownish tinge. It has an unpleasant odor, somewhat repulsive and pungent. Its taste is acrid.

Health Benefits

Deep Skin Exfoliation

The single most popular use of croton oil is in the manufacture of chemical peels for skin exfoliation. The most commonly used peel is the Phenol-Croton chemical peel [3]. When applied on the skin, it sloughs off a thin layer off the epidermis ( outermost skin layer ). This leads to deep pain and burning sensation on the skin. There is obviously visible redness and it usually takes 2 weeks to heal. This is where the most important part comes. When the skin heals itself back, collagen and elastin fibers fill up the space uniformly. This evens out wrinkles, fine lines, depression scars and raised scars. However, these peels are not helpful in case of skin condition that affect the dermis ( second layer of skin ) like stretch marks, although some improvement may be seen.

Croton oil based chemical skin peels are the deepest acting ones. But, they have the strongest side effects and risks. They lead to burning, redness and sharp pain. In some cases, the damage done to the skin may be more than what was intended. The peel may scrape off skin upto the dermis, leading to complications. Therefore, it is advised not to use these peel at home without prior knowledge. They should be performed under the supervision of a trained professional.

Such peels do have strong anti-aging effects. However, these are never long lasting and may increase dependency on such products. Croton oil also has tumor promoting tendency, so such peels should not be used for long periods of time.



Counter Irritant

Croton oil leads to irritation on the skin when applied. This is made use of as a counter irritant. A low concentration of croton oil is used to divert the mind to some other place on the skin and leave aside some other place which is suffering from severe irritation or inflammation. This is generally only carried out when the benefits weigh over the side effects and troubles that the patient has to endure because of croton oil.

Severe Constipation

In ancient Chinese medicine, croton oil was used to get rid of severe constipation. It is still used today for the same purpose. However, one should not attempt to use this oil without the supervision of a trained TCM ( traditional Chinese medicine ) practitioner.

Intestinal parasites

Croton oil is used to rid the patient off intestinal parasites like in Schistosomiasis. It is a parasitic infection caused by Schistosoma.

Anti-Cancer

Croton species are being studied for their cytocidal effect on cancerous cells. If this is verified, then croton oil may well be used in conventional cancer treatments.

Croton oil is also helpful in dealing with eczema and skin eruption. It is also used in liniments to treat urticaria.

Uses

Croton oil is also used for other purposes.

  • Liniments- Surprisingly, croton oil is used as ingredient in liniment formulations. When used singly, it causes pain but when used in the right combination, it actually helps to lower pain, stiffness and discomfort.
  • Biodiesel – Croton tiglium is used to extract biodiesel. It is even more efficient at biodiesel production than jatropha.

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

Croton oil has major side effects. It is strongly irritant and often leads to chemical burns on skin. It can also lead to permanent scarring and damage to tissues, nerves and blood vessels if the chemical peel is not of right concentration. Secondly, it poses the risk of tumors.

It should be kept away from toddlers and even kids. Pregnant women should strictly avoid this oil.

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

Croton oil contains essential fatty acids, but the oil is far from edible. It contains the following nutrients which constitute its nutrition facts. [4]

  • Linoleic Acid – It is also an omega-6 essential oil fatty acid.
  • Oleic Acid – It is an omega-9 fatty acid.
  • Eicosenoic Acid – This is also a fatty acid.
  • Isoborneol – This is a volatile organic compound.
  • Fenchyl alcohol
  • Phorbol esters

References

1. In vitro cytocidal effects of the essential oil from Croton cajucara (red sacaca) and its major constituent 7- hydroxycalamenene against Leishmania chagasi. Igor A Rodrigues et. al.BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:249
2. Tumor-promoting Activity of Phorbol and Four Diesters of Phorbol in Mouse Skin. William M. Baird and R. K. Boutwell. Cancer Res 1971;31:1074-1079
3. An examination of the phenol-croton oil peel: Part I. Dissecting the formula. Hetter GP. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2000 Jan;105(1):227-39; discussion 249-51.
4. [GC-MS analysis of chemical components in seeds oil from Croton tiglium]. Lan M1, Wan P, Wang ZY, Huang XL. Zhong Yao Cai. 2012 Jul;35(7):1105-8.

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