With its bitter taste and garlic-like smell, neem oil has the ability to act like an all-natural pesticide that deters both insects and diseases.
Loaded with nutrients, neem oil is also used in natural skin care products because it contains high levels of antioxidants, including carotenoids that help protect the skin from oxidative stress and free radical damage. As a result, cold-pressed neem oil and neem extracts are widely seen in cosmetics such as soap, hair products, hand creams and pet shampoos.
Since neem is also especially high in important fatty acids and vitamin E and can quickly penetrate outer layers of skin, it is extremely effective in healing dry and damaged skin. Let’s look closer at how this oil is made and its many applications.
What Is Neem Oil?
Neem oil comes from cold-pressing the seeds of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica, which is a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia and Africa and a member of the Meliaceae family.
Azadirachta indica is thought to have originated in India or Burma. It’s a large, fast-growing evergreen that can reach approximately 40 to 80 feet in height.
It is drought-resistant, heat-tolerant and may live up to 200 years! Today it’s mostly found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The bark and leaves of the tree are known to be used medically, and less often, the flowers, fruit and roots are used as well. The leaves are generally available year-round as the tree is an evergreen.
Other names for neem include:
- holy tree
- bead tree
- Indian lilac
What is neem oil used for? Since the oil contains various active compounds that have insecticidal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it has many applications. Neem oil uses include its ability to contribute to protective compounds to products like toothpastes, soaps, shampoos and more.
One of this oil’s very interesting uses is it acts as a chemical-free pesticide.
Neem seed oil is composed of a mixture of components, including terpenoids, liminoids and flavonoids.
Azadirachtin is the most active component and is used for repelling and killing pests. After the extraction of this active ingredient, the portion left over is known as clarified hydrophobic neem oil.
As reported in a study published by Frontiers in Plant Scient, it works as an effective non-toxic insect control agent to agriculture.
Benefits for Skin
Here are some of the top neem oil benefits:
1. Combats Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are some of the hardest urban pests to manage, and bed bug bites are certainly something we all want to avoid. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that neem oil, when combined with certain approved agents, can be safe and effective against bed bugs both at home and in commercial environments.
In fact, the EPA says that cold-pressed neem oil is the only biochemical pesticide registered for use against bed bugs. Performance trials conducted show that neem oil helps control bed bug adults, nymphs and eggs.
2. Serves as a Natural Insecticide
Neem is considered a safe, naturally occurring insecticide.
The aim of a research study published in the Journal of Insect Science was to find a low-tech mosquito control method that can be used by local people, particularly in Africa. As the study notes:
There are serious environmental concerns regarding large-scale application of most conventional insecticides. Clearly there is a need for alternative methods that are more effective, less expensive, and environmentally friendly.
The research demonstrates how a crude extract of neem can inhibit the growth and development of mosquitoes, while a crude powder can kill off mosquitoes (most likely by suffocating the insects). Azadirachtin has been found to be the component of neem that appears to be responsible for about 90 percent of its anti-pest effects.
Neem products do not necessarily provide absolute insect control. However, frequent applications can reduce pest populations dramatically by repelling them and inhibiting their larval development, growth, fertility, mating and egg laying, as well as deterring feeding.
3. Assists Plants
Neem can help boost plant health by discouraging unwanted pests as well as fungus. In fact, the EPA points out that “cold-pressed neem oil has been used for hundreds of years to control plant insects and diseases.”
The American Orchid Society reports that you can use neem seed oil as a safe leaf polish, though some plants may be sensitive. A neem spray solution for plants (more on that later in this article) should completely cover all plant surfaces for maximum effectiveness.
One important precaution with plant use is never to use neem solutions on plants during hot weather (85 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer) or in direct sunlight. In addition, avoid damage to plant tissues by placing plants in the shade until the neem application is dry.
4. Has Antioxidant and Disease-Fighting Properties
Studies have shown that neem is a rich source of antioxidants that can play a role in prevention and treatment of diseases via the inhibition of bacterial growth and modulation of genetic pathways.
Azadirachta indica contains active constituents, including:
Not only do these compounds have antifungal and antibacterial activities, but they also exhibit anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, antitumour activities and more.
Neem has been shown to have free radical-scavenging activity and help with the management of cancer through the regulation of cell signaling pathways. It also plays a role as an anti-inflammatory agent via regulation of pro-inflammatory enzyme activities.
Traditionally, different parts of the neem plant have been used by populations from many countries for the treatment of several diseases, such as:
- eye problems
- elimination of intestinal worms
- skin ulcers and skin diseases
5. Offers Wide-Ranging Skin Care Benefits, Including Help for Wrinkles, Dryness and Acne
Why is neem oil good for skin? Studies show that neem seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs), triglycerides, vitamin E and calcium.
Because of its EFAs and vitamin E, neem seed oil penetrates deep within the skin to heal the minuscule cracks brought on by severe dryness. Fatty acids present in the neem kernel oil include oleic acid (52.8 percent), linoleic acid (2.1 percent), palmitic acid (12.6 percent) and stearic acid (21.4 percent).
The skin easily absorbs the fatty acids and vitamin E found in neem without leaving the skin feeling too greasy. Once absorbed, these powerful skin-boosting ingredients can help rejuvenate skin health.
Benefit-rich vitamin E acts as a free radical scavenger by hindering the oxidizing processes in the skin. It also promotes soft and supple skin.
It’s no wonder neem seed oil uses include it being a natural remedy for eczema symptoms — including dry, red, itchy skin. Researchers point out that neem seed oil can be a substitute for palm oil in making soaps so users can benefit from its beneficial medicinal properties.
What about the potential anti-aging effects of neem seed oil? A research study published in 2017 finds that topical application of neem may help reduce symptoms of skin aging, including thickening, wrinkles, moisture loss and redness.
Neem is also often found in skin care products to naturally fight acne and for good reason! Research shows that neem seed oil has antibacterial abilities against the microbes that cause acne. It can be used as a spot treatment to help heal blemishes and for breakout prevention.
6. Boosts Hair and Scalp Health
With its fatty acid content, neem seed oil is great for improving dry hair and nourishing the scalp. With its antifungal properties, it’s also a great ingredient for naturally fighting off dandruff, which is caused by a yeast-like fungus.
You can look for neem seed oil and neem extracts in natural hair care products, or you can add a few drops to shampoos, conditioners and hair masks to boost their benefits.
7. May Help Against Malaria
Neem oil makes for a great natural mosquito repellent that is safe to use against parasites transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, which can cause malaria.
As reported in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, when 2 percent neem oil was mixed with coconut oil and then applied to the exposed body parts of human volunteers, it provided complete protection for approximately 12 hours from the bites of all anopheline species. The study concludes that the application of neem oil can even offer protection from malaria in endemic countries.
How to Use
If you’re wondering where to buy neem oil, the easiest options include online or in health food stores. Look for oil that is yellow in color as well as cloudy and that has an odor similar to garlic and sulfur.
It’s best to opt for 100 percent pure neem oil, ideally that is certified organic because this ensures that it doesn’t contain unwanted solvents or petrochemicals that may have been used in the purification process.
If you’re trying to fight off bed bugs or mosquitoes, you can look for products such as neem oil sprays that are healthier yet effective alternatives to using harsh chemicals. Regarding plants, the American Orchid Association advises not to use neem on plants during hot weather and to keep plants in the shade until the neem solution dries completely.
A general recommendation is to mix neem oil at the rate of two tablespoons (one ounce) per gallon of water. Mix the solution thoroughly then spray all plant surfaces (including undersides of leaves) until completely wet.
You can also use neem seed oil to provide therapeutic benefits to your skin and hair. You’ll find neem already present in many cosmetic products, or you can add the oil to your own homemade products.
Wondering how to use neem oil starting today? Here are some ideas for DIY recipes:
Anti-Wrinkle Neem Oil Cream with Lavender
- 8 ounces of organic jojoba oil
- ½ ounce of pure, organic neem seed oil
- 4–5 drops pure lavender oil
- Place ingredients in a cosmetic container or small cosmetic bottle. Mix or shake well. Apply as a moisturizer to your skin.
- For skin problems like acne or eczema, apply directly onto the skin two or three times a day.
- You should not use undiluted neem seed oil on your skin. Always try a very small amount diluted on a small area of skin to make sure your skin does not have a negative reaction.
Neem Oil Spray Solution (from the American Orchid Society and suggested by growers)
- 1 teaspoon neem oil
- ½ teaspoon plant-safe liquid soap
- 1 quart warm water
- Place in a plastic spray bottle, and make sure to mix all ingredients well, shaking intermittently to ensure they remain well-mixed.
- Because the oil smothers insect pests, be sure to completely cover all plant surfaces for maximum effectiveness. Some sources indicate that the mixture begins to break down after eight hours, so a fresh batch should be used at every application.
Store neem oil spray in the refrigerator or in an area that is cool and dark so it will keep longer. It should keep fresh for about a year or two.
Make sure you label it appropriately wherever you choose to store it.
It may solidify at low temperatures, but you can simply place the container in warm water to get it back to a liquid form for use. Make sure it doesn’t get too warm since heat destroys the azadirachtin (the most effective component).
Risks and Side Effects
Is neem oil harmful to humans? For most adults, neem is generally safe for topical use on the skin for up to two weeks, when taken by mouth for up to 10 weeks or when applied inside the mouth for up to six weeks.
Neem can be unsafe for adults when used in large amounts or for extended periods. The main concern with overuse is it may harm the liver or kidneys.
Breastfeeding women or pregnant women should not use this oil. For pregnant women, it may encourage miscarriage therefore it’s considered unsafe.
Do not use neem products with your children unless your health care provider approves of the use. In infants and small children, serious side effects can occur, such as vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness and others.
Some people may be sensitive to topical contact of neem. Since neem is a strong oil, it’s best to dilute it by combining it with equal parts of a carrier oil, such as coconut oil.
It’s also a good idea to try a very small amount of the diluted oil on a small spot of your skin to ensure you do not have a negative reaction before using more.
If we are talking about neem seed oil as a pesticide/insecticide, just how safe is it?
According to the EPA, “No risk to human health is expected from the use of cold-pressed neem seed oil because of its low toxicity via all route of exposure.”
Azadirachtin and other active ingredients in the neem seed have been shown to have insecticide properties that are effective against a broad spectrum of insects, many mites and nematodes, and even snails and fungi, but they unlikely to cause harmful effects.
According to the EPA, “When used as directed on product labels, neither clarified hydrophobic extract of neem oil nor azadirachtin are expected to harm non-target organisms.”
Why is neem oil banned in Canada? According to the Neem Oil Insecticide website, “In 2012 there was a ban placed on the import and export of Neem oil and related products due to the fact that it was never registered as a pesticide in Canada.”
This ban seems to have more to do with the fact that neem was never submitted for approval as a pesticide, rather than due to any data showing that it’s unsafe.
Check with your doctor before using neem products if you have a chronic disease or are currently taking medication.
Neem is typically not a recommended remedy for people with the following concerns/situations:
- Autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Diabetes — Neem may cause blood sugar to go too low, so if a diabetic uses neem, blood sugar must be monitored closely.
- Surgery — Stop neem use at least two weeks before surgery.
- Organ transplant
Neem may also interact with the following medications: anti-diabetes drugs, lithium and immunosuppressants.
- What is neem oil used for? One of the most common uses is as an insecticide. For hundreds of years, people have been using it to control plant insects and diseases.
- What bugs does neem oil kill? It kills bed bugs (at all stages) as well as mosquitoes.
- You can use neem oil spray on plants to discourage fungus and unwanted pests.
- The use of neem for skin health includes its application for dry skin, eczema and acne. For topical use, dilute it with a carrier oil such as coconut oil.
- Do not use neem products on infants or small children or if you are pregnant or looking to become pregnant. You should also check with your doctor before using it if you have an ongoing condition or are currently taking medication.