What is Neem Oil?
Neem oil derives from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree, which grows mainly in the Indian subcontinent.
Neem oil is rich in fatty acids such as palmitic, linoleic and oleic acids, which help support healthy skin. The oil is a popular ingredient in skincare products.
The leaf of the plant also provides health benefits. The leaves contain plant compounds called flavonoids and polyphenols, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.
Benefits for the skin
Researchers have only recently begun to examine how plant compounds influence health and disease. As a result, few scientific studies have investigated the use of neem oil in general skincare or as a treatment for skin conditions.
The following are some benefits of neem oil and the evidence behind these claims.
1. Anti-Aging Effects
A 2017 study concluded that Neem oil was effective in treating the following symptoms of skin aging:
The researchers also found that the extract boosted levels of a collagen-producing enzyme called procollagen and a protein called elastin.
Collagen gives the skin structure, making it look plump and full, while elastin helps retain the skin’s shape.
Production of these compounds decreases as people age. This eventually leads to dry, deflated-looking, thin skin and the formation of wrinkles.
2. Promoting Wound Healing
Research suggests that neem oil may help enhance wound healing.
In one 2010 animal study, researchers discovered that neem oil showed superior wound healing effects, compared with Vaseline.
A similar 2013 study compared the effects of saline and neem oil on wound healing in rats. Those that received neem oil healed faster and did not develop raised scars.
The researchers speculated that compounds in neem oil may promote blood vessel and connective tissue growth, thus enhancing wound healing.
A 2014 study investigated whether a gel containing neem oil and St. John’s wort could help reduce skin toxicity from radiation therapy. The study involved 28 human participants who were receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.
All participants experienced some reduction in skin toxicity following treatment with the gel.
3. Fighting Skin Infections
A 2019 study examined the antibacterial properties of cosmetic products containing neem compounds. The authors found that soaps containing extracts of neem leaf or neem bark prevented the growth of several strains of bacteria.
Neem extracts can also help treat a variety of skin conditions, including:
Most people can use neem oil safely. However, it can cause allergic reactions such as contact dermatitis.
Also, swallowing trace amounts of neem oil will likely not cause harm, but consuming large quantities can cause adverse effects, especially in children. These may include:
How to Use Neem Oil
Use organic, cold-pressed neem oil. The oil should have a cloudy, yellow-brown color and a strong odor.
Neem oil is generally safe to apply to the skin. However, it is very potent, so it may be a good idea to test it on a small patch of skin before applying it more extensively.
To perform a patch test, mix a couple drops of neem oil with water or liquid soap. Apply the mixture to a small area of skin on the arm or the back of the hand.
If the skin becomes red, inflamed, or itchy, dilute the neem oil further by adding more water or liquid soap. Test this mixture on a different area of skin and watch for any signs of irritation.
People who are allergic to neem oil may develop hives or a rash after a patch test. If this happens, stop using the oil — and any products that contain it — immediately.
Some people use neem oil to treat various skin conditions, including infections and acne.
To use it as a spot treatment, apply a small amount of diluted oil to the affected skin. Let the mixture soak into the skin, then rinse it off with warm water.
Neem oil has a particularly strong odor. To disguise it, try mixing neem oil with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, coconut, or almond oil. Carrier oils also help the skin absorb neem oil.
Neem oil has a long history of use in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Despite this, researchers have only recently begun exploring the potential applications of neem oil.
Neem oil contains fatty acids, antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds, and these can benefit the skin in a range of ways. Research shows that these compounds may help fight skin infections, promote wound healing, and combat signs of skin aging.
To use neem oil as part of a skincare routine, mix it with water or a carrier oil. It is important to do a patch test when trying neem oil for the first time.