Mon-Fri: 9am - 5pm, Sat: 9am - 1pm

Natural Remedies and Eye Health — Fact or Fiction? 

Natural remedies are not all faux. As people of science, we must pay tribute to traditional and aboriginal medication, upon which modern medicine was built. According to the World Health Organization [1], a conservative estimate of 40% of pharmaceutical products [2] are drawn from natural and traditional knowledge. 

With the rise of social media, the inevitable rise of misinformation tails closely behind. There has been an increase in “home remedies” on social media sites such as TikTok, many claiming to remedy or even improve vision-related issues. Medical professionals often do not have the opportunity to refute these trendy “home remedies”, which are often unsubstantiated and may even cause further harm.

In this article, we sat with Dr Chelvin to understand the extent to which these claims hold weight. 

Claim #1: Castor oil can help to treat dry eyes, floaters, cataracts, poor vision, and glaucoma

Castor oil [3], derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant, has a long history in traditional and folk medicine [4]. Recently, the resurgence of castor oil as a potential solution for eye-related issues has gained traction, thanks to influencers showcasing their experiences on TikTok.

Many TikTok influencers have uploaded videos showing the application of castor oil around their eyes. Some suggest that the benefits of castor oil include improved vision and reduced eye dryness. Some even claim that castor oil is effective in treating certain eye conditions such as cataract and glaucoma

castor oil
TikTok influencers have touted castor oil as a natural remedy for eye problems.

Various community reports have claimed that castor oil has antimicrobial activity and is effective in stimulating uterine contraction and promoting lipid metabolism. However, to date, castor oil has only obtained FDA approval as a stimulative laxative [5].

Regarding eye health, below are some relevant studies.

Purported benefits Explanation 
A study [6] indicated that a nanoemulsion of brimonidine tartrate, prepared using castor oil along with Lipoid S75, Lipoid E80, and PF-68, showed potential for glaucoma treatment.Brimonidine [7] is an established glaucoma medication and is the active ingredient that lowers eye pressure rather than castor oil. The conclusion that castor oil is effective in treating glaucoma is erroneous. 
A study [8] found that using castor oil on the base of one eyelid twice a day for four weeks improved blepharitis-related symptoms. Although the results of this solitary study seem promising, further research is necessary to validate the claims. Studies with larger sample sizes and longer follow-up durations are required to substantiate this claim. 

Castor oil, which is widely available in grocery stores, may contain additives, such as preservatives or fragrances. These additives can be potentially harmful, mainly when applied to sensitive areas like the eyes or skin. Using castor oil with additives on the skin may result in irritation, redness, or allergic reactions, especially for individuals with sensitive skin. The delicate skin around the eyes is particularly susceptible to irritation, and exposure to additives in castor oil could lead to discomfort or inflammation. 

castor oil on the eyes
Using castor oil on the eyes may cause irritation, redness, or allergic reactions. 

Moreover, if the oil comes into contact with the eyes, it may increase the risk of eye infections. In some cases, putting castor oil directly on the eyes can damage the transparent, dome-shaped cornea [9]. Additionally, commercially available castor oil has not been adequately sterilised; hence, using it as an eye drop increases your risk of eye infections.

Another common side effect of using castor oil as an eye drop is blurry vision, as it creates an oily layer over the tear film and ocular surface. 

Claim #2: Eye yoga improves vision and remedies age-related vision changes (presbyopia)

Eye yoga, also known as yogic eye exercises, includes a set of yoga flows (known as asanas) designed to enhance vision and alleviate eye strain. Below are some articles supporting the benefits of eye yoga: 

Purported benefits Explanation 
The Journal of Yoga [10] hypothesised that eye yoga works to bring down intraocular pressure [11] (IOP). These hypotheses were not substantiated by any clinical trials. Therefore, they remain as baseless claims. 
A study [12] with 60 subjects indicated that practising eye yoga reduced fatigue and eye tiredness. The practice of eye yoga may have aided subjects to remain more focused and subsequently minimised stress levels.
Consequently, these effects may help to reduce eye strain and fatigue as they are directly attributed [13] to stress. 

Other alleged benefits have included eye yoga benefitting patients after cataract surgery, remedying age-related near vision changes, known as presbyopia [14], or forestalling the need for reading glasses. Scientific evidence supporting these claims is still lacking. We recommend consulting your ophthalmologist to ensure safety before implementing any eye yoga practice. 

eye yoga
There is no scientific evidence to support claims of eye yoga and its ability to improve vision and other eye-related conditions.

Claim #3: Using homemade eye drops to remedy ocular issues 

Another common and dangerous practice is using homemade or unregulated eye drops. Many use homemade eye drops to soothe eye dryness, redness, or irritation. However, concocting homemade eye drops under non-sterile conditions and applying them to your eyes without adequate medical knowledge can cause serious ocular injury. Such adverse consequences include eye infection, allergy, or other complications. 

Purported benefits Explanation 
It has been claimed that tea tree oil [15] can eliminate Demodex mites [16] from the eyelashes. An overgrowth of these microscopic mites can lead to blepharitis, a condition characterised by itchy and swollen eyelids. However, it remains controversial whether concentrations of tea tree oil between 5% and 50% are effective in treating Demodex blepharitis. Regardless, lower concentrations of tea tree oil are less likely to cause ocular irritation. 

Applying essential oils directly to or around the eyes is associated with potential risks. Even in dilute concentrations, they can cause eye irritation, allergy, and damage to the ocular surface; whilst essential oils can be beneficial to human health [17], attempting to use them specifically to remedy eye-related issues can be disastrous. 

It is recommended to use HSA-approved and sterile eye drops [18] explicitly designed to treat ocular issues such as eye redness, dryness, or irritation. HSA-approved products undergo rigorous testing, therefore assuring their safety and efficacy. 

Homemade eye drops
Homemade eye drops can pose serious risks, including infection and potential ocular injury.

Claim #4: Raw meat or steak to heal black eyes 

This is not exactly a social media trend per se, but rather a misconception that has persisted for years. Initially seen on television, characters would reach out for steak or meat in their fridge to heal bruised or black eyes after intense combat. Soon, people began replicating these “behaviours”. 

It is important to note that this belief is not grounded in scientific evidence, as using a piece of steak is not only an ineffective remedy but can also be harmful. The rationale behind the practice is often misunderstood, as it's not the meat that contributes to healing but rather the application of coldness to the affected area.

The cold temperature provides therapeutic benefits by reducing swelling and promoting vasoconstriction [19], which can alleviate pain and bruising. However, the choice of a steak is questionable, as raw meat potentially contains harmful bacteria that can cause infections when applied to the delicate skin around the eye.

For a safe and effective alternative, use an ice pack instead, which helps you achieve the desired cooling effect without the risks associated with using raw meat. This would be a more hygienic and practical solution for managing a black eye and reducing swelling.

steak or raw meat on eyes
Putting raw meat on the eyes may introduce harmful bacteria into your eyes and cause infections. 

Takeaway 

In the age of social media, where trends and unverified remedies circulate rapidly, it is crucial to approach eye care cautiously and discerningly. Numerous practices propagated across social media platforms, such as castor oil application, essential oil usage, Beezin' [20], using a hairdryer for eyelash curling, resorting to raw meat or steak for treating a black eye, and using homemade eyedrops have gained attention for their unsubstantiated claims. 

However, a closer look reveals that many of these practices lack scientific support and, in some cases, can be potentially harmful to ocular health. Protecting the health of your eyes requires informed decision-making and recognising that not all trends, no matter how popular, are grounded in scientific reality. 

Rather than relying on unverified and potentially hazardous trends, individuals should consult qualified eye care professionals, particularly ophthalmologists, for any eye-related concerns. 

An ophthalmologist possesses the expertise to provide accurate diagnoses and recommend safe and effective treatments for various eye conditions. If you have any eye-related concerns, please schedule an appointment with Chelvin Sng Eye Centre for individualised treatment options. 

References

  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Traditional medicine has a long history of contributing to conventional medicine and continues to hold promise. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/traditional-medicine-has-a-long-history-of-contributing-to-conventional-medicine-and-continues-to-hold-promise 
  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.). WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.who.int/initiatives/who-global-centre-for-traditional-medicine 
  1. WebMD. (n.d.). Castor Oil: Health Benefits. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/castor-oil-health-benefits 
  1. Sharma, S. K., Singh, M., Narang, P., & Kaur, J. (2019). Castor oil: A potential bio-based polyol for polyurethane. Materials Today: Proceedings, 18, 4207–4212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.matpr.2019.07.559 
  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2019). Castor Oil. In StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551626/#:~:text=Castor%20oil%20is%20most%20well,use%20as%20a%20stimulative%20laxative 
  1. Salari, S., Khodayar, M. J., Feyzi, F., & Khatibi-Moghadam, H. (2012). Correlation between Mental Toughness and Academic Procrastination in a Sample of Iranian Medical Sciences Students. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 3(3), 49–55. https://www.eurekaselect.com/article/92034
  2. Brimonidine (ophthalmic route) precautions (2023) Mayo Clinic. Available at:    https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/brimonidine-ophthalmic-route/precautions/drg-20067572?p=1#:~:text=Brimonidine%20eye%20drops%20is%20used,caused%20by%20minor%20eye%20irritations. (Accessed: 01 December 2023). 
  3. Muntz, A., Sandford, E., Claassen, M., Curd, L., Jackson, A.K., Watters, G., Wang, M.T. and Craig, J.P., 2021. Randomized trial of topical periocular castor oil treatment for blepharitis. The ocular surface, 19, pp.145-150. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1542012420300859?via%3Dihub 
  1. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Cornea. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21562-cornea 
  1. Sankalp et al. (2018) Effect of yoga-based ocular exercises in lowering of intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients: An affirmative proposition, International Journal of Yoga. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6134736/ (Accessed: 01 December 2023).
  1. Machiele, R., Motlagh, M. and Patel, B. (no date) Intraocular pressure - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf, National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532237/ (Accessed: 01 December 2023).
  2. Kim, S.-D. (2016) Effects of yogic eye exercises on eye fatigue in undergraduate nursing students, Journal of physical therapy science. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4932063/ (Accessed: 01 December 2023).
  3. Stress.org. (n.d.). How Stress Affects Your Vision. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.stress.org/how-stress-affects-your-vision#:~:text=Constant%2C%20severe%20stress%20levels%20and,and%20stress%2Drelated%20vision%20problems
  1. SingHealth. (n.d.). Presbyopia. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.singhealth.com.sg/patient-care/conditions-treatments/presbyopia 
  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7388771/#:~:text=Authors'%20conclusions,to%20avoid%20induced%20ocular%20irritation .
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Demodex (Face Mites). Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22775-demodex-face-mites 
  1. Elshafie, H.S. and Camele, I. (2017) An overview of the biological effects of some Mediterranean essential oils on human health, BioMed research international. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5694587/  (Accessed: 01 December 2023). 
  1. Health Sciences Authority. (Year). New Drug Approvals - July 2023. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.hsa.gov.sg/announcements/new-drug-approval/new-drug-approvals---july-2023 
  1. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Vasoconstriction. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21697-vasoconstriction 
  1. Ophthalmology Times. (n.d.). Beezin: The Hazardous TikTok Trend Involving Burt’s Bees. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.ophthalmologytimes.com/view/beezin-the-hazardous-tiktok-trend-involving-burt-s-bees 

Contact us

Schedule an appointment if you have any questions





    Dr Chelvin Sng of Chelvin Sng eye center

    Dr Chelvin Sng

    Adjunct Associate Professor
    Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist
    ✓ 4 Gold Medals (Specialist Accreditation Examination)
    ✓ "Top 50 Rising Stars” (2017), “Top 100 Female Ophthalmologists” (2021)
    and "Top 100 Ophthalmologists" (2022)
    ⋆ Global Ophthalmologist Power List (voted by peers worldwide)
    ✓ Cambridge University Graduate with Triple First Class Honours and Distinctions

    Address

    38 Irrawaddy Road Mt Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, #06-25, Singapore 329563

    Operating Hours

    Mon - Fri: 9am - 5pm
    Saturday: 9am - 1pm
    Sunday / PH: Closed

    chevron-down