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Unverified Claims About Benefits of Castor Oil on TikTok Point Towards a Dangerous Trend

Recently, the hashtag castoroil gained immense popularity on TikTok due to creators promoting dubious wellness trends.
Image Source: Photo by Monstera Production | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Monstera Production | Pexels

Things you see on social media and tall claims made as part of health or skincare trends are fascinating, but they can't be trusted all the time. In recent weeks, TikTok creator Busy Belle, with almost 30,000 followers, has been advocating the application of castor oil to the belly button, claiming it can combat bacterial infections and dissolve tumors. Leveraging TikTok Shop, the platform's new e-commerce feature, Belle has posted multiple videos endorsing Aliver Jamaican Black Castor Oil. One of these videos has garnered over 1.5 million views, and the linked product boasts over 33,000 total sales. Belle, presumably benefiting from these sales, asserts the effectiveness of castor oil, defending her endorsement "I’m a Taurus, I don’t lie, okay?”

Image Source: Photo by Monstera Production | Pexels
Wellness products | Photo by Monstera Production | Pexels

While castor oil has historically been marketed as a cure-all with limited evidence, it has recently gained popularity with influencers and stores suggesting its efficacy for various ailments. TikTok, in particular, has become a hub for this trend, where creators like Busy Belle promote new wellness fads. Successful algorithms may make users believe the platform understands them better than they know themselves. Fraudulent wellness influencers on TikTok make users feel as if a promised treatment or cure has serendipitously appeared just when they needed it most.

Image Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels
Relaxation and wellbeing | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels

The introduction of the TikTok Shop in the US in September 2023 has illuminated the intersection of dubious online wellness advice and TikTok's trend cycles, showcasing how they collaborate to reach new audiences and repackage health remedies with questionable efficacy or safety. The platform has witnessed an influx of creators promoting parasite cleanses, detox drinks, miracle cures, and oils and tinctures with sweeping health claims.

TikTok Shop functions as an in-app marketplace offering an extensive array of products ranging from verified brands to potentially scammy or counterfeit items. It caters to the #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt trend, where viral content prompts users to purchase various items directly within the app rather than through external platforms. The Shop also serves as a revenue source for creators who can produce "affiliate" videos endorsing products found in the shop, earning commissions from sales instead of traditional sponsorship arrangements.

While this method of targeting audiences predates the Shop's launch, its implementation has intensified. Earlier this year, wellness creators on TikTok popularized the hazardous practice of drinking borax diluted in water. Fitness influencers have endorsed the risky "dry scooping" of protein powder. The platform has also been exploited by merchants promoting steroids and steroid-like drugs, particularly targeting younger viewers. A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate revealed that videos endorsing these substances, often seemingly directed at teenagers, were viewed over 500 million times on TikTok, with influencers earning commissions from third-party merchant sites.

Image Source: Photo by doTERRA International, LLC | Pexels
Wellness trends | Photo by doTERRA International, LLC | Pexels

Castor oil trends on TikTok Shop

Certain wellness trends like the promotion of castor oil have found success on TikTok Shop by offering products with some legitimate uses. Despite castor oil having FDA-approved uses, influencers on TikTok Shop make broad claims lacking scientific evidence. Claims about castor oil treating anxiety, boosting the immune system, and curing arthritis are being propagated without solid backing. In October 2023, the hashtag #CastorOil on TikTok had at least 925 million views with many top videos specifically promoting the application of castor oil to the belly button. Sponsored videos often include audio from Barbara O'Neill, known for promoting pseudoscientific cancer treatments. O'Neill's claims about castor oil healing various ailments are not supported by credible research, and she has faced restrictions in Australia for providing potentially harmful advice.

Image Source: Photo by Mikhail Nilov | Pexels
Sharing wellness products | Photo by Mikhail Nilov | Pexels

Some of these castor oil videos may violate TikTok Shop's policies against selling unlicensed medicines, making health claims, and offering beauty products with unverified medical applications, but enforcement of these rules remains unclear.