Fact: The internet loves castor oil. A quick search of the words will yield millions of results (over 60,000,000 and counting), ranging from fervent Reddit threads to DIY recipes on Pinterest boards and beauty blogs from all corners of the world swearing by its ability to grow lush, long hair—and fast!

Based on the reviews (and some pretty convincing before and after photos), we were ready to promptly pour a large bottle of the stuff on our heads and let it work its purported magic, but we thought it would be wise to vet this beloved ingredient by an expert first.

Enter Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, a board-certified dermatologist at Preston Dermatology and Skin Surgery in North Carolina.

According to Dr. Solomon, "Women account for 40 percent of Americans who are struggling with hair thinning or loss. And because the options for treating this issue are often very costly, it is completely understandable why many women seek out natural remedies such as castor oil." Glad we’re on the same page, here, doc, but give it to us straight…

Does castor oil actually help with hair growth?

Not really—at least not directly or on its own. "Scientific evidence surrounding castor oil for hair growth is lacking," says Solomon. The good news, she assures us, is that it does not have any harmful effects and can "enhance and increase the absorption and effectiveness of other products," which can in turn provide "fertile ground" for hair to grow.

So again, to be crystal clear, castor oil itself does not cause new hair growth on its own. However, incorporating it into your routine can help create a healthier environment for hair to grow.

Are there any benefits to using it and what makes it a better option than, say, coconut oil?

For starters, it’s incredibly moisturizing. Castor oil is loaded with fatty acids and antioxidants, which makes it a great treatment for dry or brittle strands. Well-conditioned strands equal more flexibility, and more flexibility means your hair will be less likely to snag or split. The extra shine is an added bonus.

It also has naturally antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help soothe an itchy scalp and reduce dandruff—especially when paired with a nice in-shower massage to boost circulation.

The most distinguishing characteristic of castor oil (over coconut or jojoba, which are two other commonly used ingredients in DIY hair remedies) is its dense and slightly sticky texture. By far the thickest of the bunch, a little dab of castor oil goes a much longer way than its counterparts.

How—and how often—should I use castor oil in my hair?

Before you go and get your scalp massage on, Dr. Solomon has a quick word of advice: "As with any new product you’re introducing into your regimen, test a tiny amount on your inner arm for 24 hours first to make sure your skin doesn’t have an adverse or allergic reaction. While it’s rare, some people do experience irritation from castor oil."

On that note, we’d recommend looking for one that’s cold-pressed and organic, as any pesticides or GMOs could potentially increase the chances of irritation. Plus, a cold-pressed extraction ensures that you’re getting the purest and highest quality form of castor oil from the seeds since there are no chemicals or heat involved in the process.

Once you’ve successfully survived your patch test, we’d recommend using your castor oil as a pre-shampoo treatment. Simply work a few drops evenly through your scalp and strands. Shampoo thoroughly afterward so no residue remains (which is especially important if your hair is on the finer side or tends to get greasy easily).

As anyone who has experienced hair loss knows, it can be isolating and overwhelming when you’re going through it, but you’re definitely not alone. (Recall the statistic about 40 percent of women?) It also helps that we have so many more resources and options for treatment than ever before—castor oil and beyond.

castor oil for hair growth PURA D OR Organic Jamaican Black Castor Oil1

1. PURA D’OR Organic Jamaican Black Castor Oil

This bestselling oil checks all the boxes: clean ingredients, good value and, most importantly, it’s effective. It’s also multi-functional. In addition to your scalp and hairline, you can use the oil on your skin, lashes and eyebrows. To that end, we especially like that it comes with two smaller tubes that include a small, liner brush and a spoolie respectively for easy application to the eyelids and brows.

2. Kate Blanc Cosmetics Castor Oil

Kate Blanc Cosmetics Castor Oil is a triple-threat. In addition to encouraging new growth around a skimpy hairline or a widening part, it’s also great for treating dry ends and flaky scalps. Heck, the certified organic oil works wonders on rough heels and dry elbows, too. A few drops is all you’ll need to get ample moisture wherever you need it most.

3. Molivera Organics Castor Oil

This tried-and-true oil is known to perform wonders for your integumentary system. Not only does it support nail growth and give your skin some added plumpness, but it also moisturizes, thickens, strengthens and promotes hair growth. Also of note: The oil is made from the highest premium grade, triple-filtered castor oil available and it’s poured in small batches to ensure optimal freshness. In short, we don’t want to pick favorites but it’s one of the best we’ve used.

4. Briogeo B. Well Organic + Cold-Pressed 100% Castor Oil

In addition to nurturing your scalp and encouraging new hair growth, this pick from cult favorite hair care brand Brigeo is great for styling curls. Massage a few drops into damp hair (or mix some in with your styling cream) to reduce frizz and add shine as it dries. Because as any curly-haired gal will tell ya: More moisture equals more defined curls. For a deeper treatment, we recommend pairing the oil with a scalp massager to really work it in before you shampoo.

5. Aria Starr Cold Pressed 100% Pure Castor Oil

If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, this jumbo-sized bottle is a solid choice. Clocking in at 16 ounces and featuring a handy pump top applicator, you’ll have plenty of unrefined, cold pressed castor oil goodness to last you for a long, long time. Not to mention it’s easier to dole out the appropriate amount to hydrate, say, your parched legs after a shower. (Tip: Mix in a few drops of another scalp-friendly oil like tea tree or peppermint before applying it to your head for an added zing and refreshing scent.)

castor oil for hair growth Sky Organics Organic Castor Oil

6. Sky Organics Organic Castor Oil

Rounding out the list is this fan favorite from Sky Organics. The certified organic formula has been shown to help with regrowth after stress or trauma (i.e., postpartum hair loss). It also works with all hair textures. Whether you have stick straight strands or coily twists, your hair and scalp will become much more manageable and healthier with regular use.