The multifactorial pathogenesis and interrelationship of blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye disease poses challenges to any therapeutic approach. Current treatments are mostly palliative, with success limited by perceived inefficacy and poor patient compliance. Castor oil, a natural derivative of the Ricinus communis plant, is widely used as an emollient in cosmetics and personal care products, drug delivery systems and wound dressings. Castor oil is deemed safe and tolerable, with strong anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-nociceptive, analgesic, antioxidant, wound healing and vaso-constrictive properties. Its main constituent, ricinoleic acid, has a bipolar molecular structure that promotes the formation of esters, amides and polymers. These can supplement deficient physiological tear film lipids, enabling enhanced lipid spreading characteristics and reducing aqueous tear evaporation. Studies reveal that castor oil applied topically to the ocular surface has a prolonged residence time, facilitating increased tear film lipid layer thickness, stability, improved ocular surface staining and symptoms. This review summarises the properties, current uses of, and therapeutic potential of castor oil in managing ocular surface disease. The biochemical, medicinal actions of castor oil are explored from the perspective of ocular surface pathology, and include microbial and demodectic over-colonisation, inflammatory and oxidative processes, as well as clinical signs and symptoms of dryness and discomfort.
© 2020 Optometry Australia.