Cottonseed Oil Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & More

Cottonseed Oil was first discovered in the 18th century and remains one of the most popular vegetable oils to this day. While it has many uses including cooking, frying and baking, it also may not be the healthiest choice.

Cottonseed oil, discovered in the late 1700s is used for many things such as cooking, frying, baking and even in skincare products. However, it is not considered to be one of the healthier vegetable oils due to its high amount of saturated fat, but it does have some potential benefits.

If you want to learn more about cottonseed oil, how it was founded, what it is used for, its potential benefits along with any harmful side effects to the product, keep reading the article below.

History of Cottonseed Oil & Why it Matters

Origins of Cottonseed Oil

During the late 18th century, a man named Dr. William Otto was the first to create and produce the cottonseed oil. He grew his cotton crops in Bethlehem, Northampton County in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Otto was a talented man who was a physician, surgeon and an apothecary who owned a local pharmacy. With Dr. Otto being required to source locally to craft different medicines and a determination to cure his patients of colic (typically newborns), he decided to look into creating cottonseed oil.

What he didn’t know, however, was that something within unrefined cottonseed oil, gossypol, is toxic to humans and only cows and other livestock can properly digest it.

In 1768 Dr. Otto alongside Dr. Thomas Bond, Vice-President of the American Philosophical Society commented on the medical findings of cottonseed oil and submitted it to the American Philosophical Society, marking the beginning of a multi-million dollar industry. 

Utilizing Cottonseed Oil

For the rest of the late 1700s, cottonseed oil was only used for testing and it wasn’t until the 1800s that a plantation owner decided to make practical use for his cottonseed oil.

From then it was further produced and used as a substitute in lamps instead of whale-oil and began to be a lubricant for machinery. It then moved to be used as fertilizer, used to dilute expensive olive oil and later the process of food-grade cottonseed oil began.

It was then, in the 1800s that it began being used as a substitute for lard when lard prices were high, however, this was not told to meatpacking companies. After this, cottonseed oil was being used as a lard-substitute and began being called shortening. Later, it was used for baking, frying, cooking and flavoring iron skillets.

In 1911, Procter & Gamble produced the first ever all cottonseed oil shortening known as CriscoⓇ, which is still used in many recipes today, and can be found on Amazon here Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening

Why the History of Cottonseed Oil Matters

Cottonseed oil was a starting point in the edible fats and oil industry. It began as one of America’s first vegetable oils and is still to this day one of the most sought after oils by food processors and consumers worldwide.

Cottonseed oil, and the large production of overtime, led it to become a multi-million dollar industry and one of the keys to the industrial revolution.

What Is Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil?

Any cottonseed oil that is then used for consumption is partially or fully hydrogenated. The process of hydrogenation is when the unsaturated oil in the liquid form is then mixed with hydrogen to turn it into solid fat. By doing this it makes it more shelf-stable and lasts longer.

The process of doing this only partially can make the oil have more of other kinds of fats. However, if it is fully hydrogenated, it will have mostly saturated fats and can have more health risks.

Typically though, the fatty-acid profile only has 26% saturated fats, meaning it is only partially hydrogenated most of the time.

Shelf Life of Cottonseed Oil

At room temperature, it was found in a study conducted by Cogent Food & Agriculture that cottonseed oil has a shelf life of 37.8 weeks which is approximately 9-10 months. However, Admiration Foods suggests that their cottonseed oil, if kept between 65°F (18.3°C) and 85°F (29.4°C), can last up to 12 months.

If you have cottonseed oil in the form of shortening, such as the Crisco brand, different timeframes apply. If the product is unopened it can last up to 2 years from the manufacture date and depending on the product anywhere from 6 months- 2 years once it has been opened.

If your shortening has a weird color, appearance or odor it is best to assume it has expired.

Uses of Cottonseed Oil

On Food

Cottonseed oil is a common vegetable oil used for baking and cooking and is loved by chefs due to its ability to bring out the flavors of the food. It is frequently used for potato chips, making a stir fry, and to deep fry many things. Its nutty and buttery taste makes it a favorite in the kitchen.

For Cooking

You can cook many things with cottonseed oil and bake with it in the form of shortening. It is most typically used in processed foods as it extends shelf-life, this includes:

  • Potato Chips
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Margarine
  • Shortening
  • Mayonnaise 
  • Salad Dressing
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For Frying

Deep frying is very common when it comes to cottonseed oil as well. When fried for a long period of time, cottonseed oil is known to make the flavor of the food taste much stronger. It also does not deteriorate as fast as other cooking oils and also keeps the flavor of the food making it a very popular choice for deep frying.

On top of potato chips being fried with it, falafels and tempura are other commonly fried foods that benefit from cottonseed oil.

Many fast-food chains also choose to deep fry their foods in cottonseed oil as it both enhances the flavor of food and is a cheaper choice.

The Smoke Point

Cottonseed oil has a high smoke point of 428°F (220°C). The smoke point or burning point is much higher than the temperature of at-home stovetops making it a popular choice in the kitchen for a stir fry.

In an Enema

An enema is a process of putting fluid into the opening of the rectum. Sometimes the word “enema” is also referring to the liquid inserted. This is done the majority of the time to assist with constipation. If a lubrication retention enema is needed, doctors may administer an enema with a mineral, olive or cottonseed oil to aid in lubricating and soothing the anus. 

For Your Skin

Cottonseed oil can actually be quite beneficial if used on its skin due to its high levels of vitamin E, fatty acids and antioxidants. These ingredients are known to support healthy skin as they:

  • Moisturize your skin
  • Support anti-ageing
  • Possess soothing anti-inflammatory properties
  • Increase your skin’s permeability so it can better absorb other skincare products

A fatty acid found within cottonseed oil, linoleic acid, is used within many skincare products and is also used in anti-dandruff shampoos and after-sun care.

Is Cottonseed Oil Comedogenic?

Each product can have a comedogenic rating, this is based on how likely the product is to clog your pores, the less comedogenic, the less likely it will clog your pores and potentially cause acne.

The comedogenic rating of cottonseed oil is a 3 out of 5.

Although there is a high amount of linoleic acid in cottonseed oil and it is non-clogging, it still rates as moderate. While if you have dry skin it may not clog your pores or cause acne, it is possible for it to clog pores or cause acne on other skin types.

Cottonseed Oil Nutrition

As per the USDA, the following nutrition per tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz) of cottonseed oil is as follows:

  • Calories: 120kcal
  • Fat: ~14g (0.5oz)  
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

Cottonseed oil is also classified as:

  • Gluten-free
  • Keto-friendly due to it containing no carbohydrates
  • Not paleo as it is processed 
  • One of many genetically modified (GMO) oils

Fats in Cottonseed Oil

There are 3 fats within cottonseed oil:

The amounts of each per tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz) are as follows:

  • Saturated Fat: 3.5g (0.12oz) 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 7.1g (0.25oz)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 2.4g (0.08oz) 

If the cottonseed oil is hydrogenated the fat profile shifts, where more than 90% of the fat then is saturated at an approximate 13g (0.46oz).

While polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are both better replacements for saturated fats, there is still approximately 4g (0.14oz) of saturated fat in a tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz) of cottonseed oil.

Saturated fats are one of the less healthy fats and can be known to contribute to heart disease.

Polyunsaturated fats may boost heart health when used as a replacement for saturated fats. The two fatty acids that are considered polyunsaturated fats are a-linolenic acid (ALA or Omega-6) and Omega-3. Both of which should be included in your daily diet.

Monounsaturated fats, which are found in small quantities in cottonseed oil are believed to increase your good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol. This is also better for you than saturated fats.

Micronutrients in Cottonseed Oil

The micronutrients found in cottonseed oil include 32% of your daily recommended Vitamin E intake and a small amount of Vitamin K, both of which are good for your health.

Potential Benefits

Although there are only some proven health benefits of cottonseed oil, there are many potential benefits and claims regarding what good it can do for you, below we have listed proven benefits of cottonseed oil.

Cancer Treatment Support

The effects of gossypol to improve the effects of radiation on prostate cancer cells have been found in animal studies.

In 2018 a study completed gossypol was also found to slow or kill certain prostate cell lines as well as reduce tumor growth. Gossypol in both animal and human studies was also found to have anticancer effects by slowing or stopping tumor growth in some types of breast cancers.

There is also evidence showing that it may suppress cancer cells that were not responding to other drugs. 

Lowers Inflammation

Since cottonseed oil is higher in monounsaturated fats it is possible it can reduce inflammation. This is because it has been shown that this type of fat can reduce inflammation.

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While this hasn’t been studied specifically with cottonseed oil before, it still could in theory help lower the risk of heart disease and could improve conditions like arthritis

Wound Healing

Due to the fact that cottonseed oil has high amounts of vitamin E, a vitamin that has been proven to benefit the skin, it could potentially promote faster wound healing.

Vitamin E may also positively affect skin ulcers, psoriasis among other skin conditions or wounds on the skin, however, there are more potent forms of vitamin E available.

Hair Growth

The acid inside of cottonseed oil, linoleic acid can help promote hair growth and prevent hair loss. This acid stops the effects of dermatitis, one of the culprits for hair loss, and strengthens the scalp.

Side Effects and Dangers

Many of the issues surrounding cottonseed oil have to do with, gossypol, something that is found within cottonseed.

Gossypol has been found to have several negative side effects including:

  • Liver damage
  • Respiratory distress
  • Infertility
  • Reduced sperm counts and motility
  • Anorexia
  • Pregnancy-related problems such as early embryo development

However, the oil is refined before it is deemed safe for eating, so it has virtually no gossypol left.

Other Potential Dangers

While you are extremely unlikely to find gossypol in your cottonseed oil, there are other potential risks that consuming or using cottonseed oil can have.

Before reading though, you must be aware that unrefined cottonseed oil will have the risks associated above. If you are buying refined, however, the hydrogenated cottonseed oil will result in the below risks more than natural cottonseed oil.

Consumption Risks

  • Heart Health: Due to the high amount of saturated fats found within cottonseed oil it can be dangerous for your heart’s health. This is especially true if you are already struggling with heart disease, cardiovascular disease or atherosclerosis. If you have any of the previously mentioned problems, speak to a health care practitioner before using this oil. 
  • Increase Cholesterol: Saturated fats while naturally occurring in some foods is known to increase cholesterol. For those looking to reduce their cholesterol levels, avoiding foods high in saturated fats such as cottonseed oil is recommended. 
  • Toxin Issues: Since cottonseed oil comes from the cotton plant, it is very possible that it is exposed to pesticides or herbicides. Therefore, making it possible to be high in bad toxins that have the potential to be cancer-causing.

Skin Application Risks

  • Skin Irritation: Since it is not uncommon for cottonseed oil to be used in skincare products, you should be aware that it can cause irritation. This is especially true for those with an allergy (read more on allergies below) to the cottonseed or who have sensitive skin. Cottonseed oil can cause inflammation, redness and itchiness so it is best to test the oil (or product) on a small patch of skin first.

Allergy & Symptoms 

Having a hypersensitivity or allergy to cottonseed oil can be possible. This would be considered an allergy to cottonseed as a whole.

In a study completed in Denver, Colorado seven subjects who experienced allergic reactions to a marketed food supplement were tested for various responses to the ingredients.

The symptoms they experienced were:

  • Oropharyngeal Pruritus (itchy throat)
  • Rhinitis (inflammation of the noses mucus membrane which results in a runny nose, sneezing and stuffiness) 
  • Nausea
  • Diaphoresis (perspiration or extreme sweating)  
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath) 
  • Cough 
  • Fall in pulmonary function (how well the lungs are working) in 45% or more subjects

After both skin and oral tests, it was found that the cottonseed protein was the culprit for allergic reactions.

It is recommended before using it that you test a small portion on your skin to see if you have a reaction.

Common Substitutes for Cottonseed Oil

Depending on what you are using cottonseed oil for, there is a variety of substitutes available. If you are using it in the kitchen, here is a list of possible oil replacements:

  • Soybean Oil
  • Canola Oil 
  • Corn Oil 
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Peanut Oil 
  • Olive Oil 
  • Safflower Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Rice Bran Oil

Cottonseed Oil vs. Peanut Oil

Cottonseed oil and peanut oil are very similar when compared, however where cottonseed oil has a higher level of saturated fat, especially when it is hydrogenated, peanut oil has a higher level of monounsaturated fat. Although, unlike cottonseed oil, peanut oil is non-GMO.

About Peanut Oil

Peanuts sit next to a corked jar of peanut oil

Peanut oil, as given by its name, is made out of the peanut plant. Peanut oil can be used to make medicine, is commonly used in cooking and can also be found in skin care products and baby care products. It is also gluten-free and keto-friendly like cottonseed oil.

As per the USDA, the nutrition facts for peanut oil is as follows per tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz):

  • Calories: 126kcal
  • Fat: 14.3g (0.5oz) 
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

Peanut Oil Uses

The main use of peanut oil is to cook with and in some cases adding flavor.

Peanut oil as with some other vegetable oils can be used to make soap and is also used in some cases as a massage oil.

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A surprising use of peanut oil which was demonstrated at the request of the French Government by The Otto Company was to show that it could be used as a source of fuel for a diesel engine which became one of the earliest demonstrations of biodiesel technology.

Fats in Peanut Oil vs. Cottonseed Oil

The three fats in peanut oil are the same as those found in cottonseed oil, saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated.

The comparison of the fat profile below is with regards to one tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz).

OilSaturated Fat Polyunsaturated FatMonounsaturated Fat
Cottonseed3.5g (0.12oz)7.1g (0.25oz)2.4g (0.08oz)
Peanut2.4g (0.08oz)4.6g (0.16oz) 6.6g (0.23oz) 

Smoke Point

The smoke point of unrefined peanut oil is 320°F (160°C) and refined peanut oil is 450°F (232°C).

Benefits of Peanut Oil

Peanut oil, like cottonseed oil is very high in vitamin E, which is both beneficial for your skin and when consumed could possibly reduce heart disease risk factors.

For those with diabetes, vitamin E can also improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar. 

Side Effects of Peanut Oil

One of the worst side effects of peanut oil would be shown through an allergy to peanuts. Those with a peanut allergy should most definitely stay away from cold-pressed peanut oils or unrefined peanut oils as the allergens are still present which for those with a peanut allergy can be highly dangerous.

If the peanut oil is highly refined, most allergens are removed and many with a peanut allergy can consume it.

Another issue that may arise, specifically with highly refined peanut oil is that it can contain trace amounts of hexane, a toxin that is a petroleum byproduct used to extract the oil from the nut. Since this practice is not regulated, some peanut oils may end up contaminated.

In addition, it is very high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which while our body needs some of, can be highly inflammatory and increase the risk of certain diseases if consumed in excess.

Cottonseed Oil vs. Sunflower Oil

Like cottonseed oil, sunflower oil is also highly composed of linoleic acid, a type of polyunsaturated fat and also has a high amount of vitamin E. However, it actually has a substantial amount of vitamin K, including 5% of the daily recommended value. It is gluten-free, keto-friendly and non-GMO, whereas cottonseed oil is genetically modified.

About Sunflower Oil

A glass of sunflower oil sits in front of sunflowers and sunflower seeds

Sunflower oil comes from the seeds of a sunflower and is pressed into an oil. It can be used as a cooking oil and can be used as a medicine as well.

As per the USDA, the nutrition facts for a tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz) of sunflower oil are as follows:

  • Calories: 126.3kcal
  • Fat: 14.2g (0.5oz)
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0g

Sunflower Oil Uses

One of the most common uses of sunflower uses is during cooking. It can be used as a frying oil, in sunflower butter (a typical peanut butter replacement), as well as unrefined sunflower oil can be used in salad dressings at times.

Sunflower oil can also be in the form of a dietary supplement such as the Sunflower Lecithin Softgel Supplements which can support the nervous system.

It can also be used to run diesel engines when mixed in the tank with diesel due to the high level of unsaturated fats.

Fats in Sunflower Oil vs. Cottonseed Oil

Sunflower oil is much lower in saturated fats than cottonseed oil and high in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. However, having more of these fatty acids means that it is more prone to oxidation.

The comparison of the fat profile below is with regards to one tablespoon (15ml or 0.51oz) of standard sunflower oil.

OilSaturated Fat Polyunsaturated FatMonounsaturated Fat
Cottonseed3.5g (0.12oz)7.1g (0.25oz)2.4g (0.08oz)
Sunflower1.4g (0.5oz) 9.4g (0.3oz)2.7g (0.1oz)

Smoke Point

The smoke point of sunflower oil is 450°F (232°C) higher than most standard cooktops.

Benefits of Sunflower Oil

Many of the benefits associated with this oil are when the high oleic acid sunflower oil is consumed compared to the standard.

This acid can decrease bad cholesterol levels (LDL), and have an increase in good cholesterol levels (HDL).

This is due to the higher amount of monounsaturated fats found in the high oleic acid sunflower oil that will reduce high cholesterol and therefore decrease your risk of heart disease.

Side Effects of Sunflower Oil

As with cottonseed oil, a potential allergy could make sunflower oil a bad choice. If you are allergic to ragweed or other related plants, you may have an allergic reaction to this oil.

If you have diabetes a diet with a lot of sunflower oil can be not so good for you. Increasing fasting insulin and blood sugar levels and for those with type 2 diabetes, potentially causing a hardening of the arteries. 


Cottonseed oil was one of the initiators in the industrial revolution and from that point on has become an extremely common oil to be used for baking, cooking and most of the time deep frying or processing foods.

However, while it may be found better in some cases due to its lack of trans fats and high vitamin E, there are still some side effects and health risks for both consumption and use of your skin and other oils may be a better choice if health is one of your main concerns.