Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions
BRIEF: Is it possible for ricin to be absorbed through the skin and cause death?
QUESTION Is it possible for a small amount of ricin to be transmitted to the skin, absorbed, causing death before one could even reach a hospital or is this an exaggeration of the toxicity when ingested by mouth?
I don't think this is possible with ricin. Ricin is a protein-based lectin. When eaten, it kills by entering and destroying the protein synthesis capabilities of intestinal cells. If injected, it can kill by doing the same kind of damage to wider variety of cells. I have never heard of skin damge, but if it could make it through the epidermis to enter a living skin cell, it might damage it, but so what? I don't think it could get into the body through intact skin. People have had problems with inhaling the dust and the allergy some people have to the pollen is supposed to be pretty bad, but absorbing directly through the skin? I don't think so. On the other hand, if you were to handle the powder, then pick your nose or eat a handful of popcorn, well, who knows...
I'm sorry to ask the question here, but I'm unable to locate an answer on other pages with information of ricin and I know that I have read of cases of multiple doses of low levels of ricin and castor beans being ingested, in which victims did survive.
See pp 140-141 and 347-348 of Poisonous Plants of California by Fuller and McClintock.