Neem oil has been used in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years thanks to its powerful medicinal properties.
Its use originated in India, where it was used to treat problems of the respiratory, circulatory and the reproductive system.
We use it today as an insecticide, skin care ingredient, and a bug repellent. Let us learn more about this highly beneficial oil and its uses.
What is neem oil?
Neem oil is a vegetable oil that is obtained from the seed kernels of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen of the tropics and sub-tropics. The neem tree, which can grow in scant rainfall and extreme heat, lives for 150 to 200 years.
The neem oil is deep yellow and has a robust garlic-like odor.
Its active ingredients include azadirachtin, Nimbin, picrin, and sialin. It also contains essential fatty acids, limonoids, triglycerides, antioxidants, vitamin E and calcium.
The high levels of antioxidants in neem oil fight free radical damage in the skin, which is the reason why neem oil is used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, and skin care creams.
Azadirachtin, a complex tetranortriterpenoid, provides neem oil its bug repellent and insecticidal properties.
History of neem oil
The neem tree has been used for its medical qualities for more than 4,500 years. The earliest documentation of the neem tree mentions the medicinal properties of the leaves, roots, bark, seeds, and oil of the neem tree.
The neem tree was known as the ‘Sarva Roga Nivarini’ (cure for all ailments) in the first millennium BC. It is no surprise that neem oil has been used for centuries in Ayurveda.
Neem is the first plant mentioned in the records of the Siddha medicine, an ancient medical system with its origins dating back to 10,000 BC. During those times, neem was used as a vaccine for smallpox and other infectious diseases.
According to Agathiyar Gunavagadam (350-year-old palm leaf manuscript), the neem leaf was used to treat bile disorders, and it also prevented and treated ulcers.
The bark of the neem tree was also used to treat central nervous system disorders, paralysis, and psychiatric disorders during ancient times.
Benefits and uses of neem oil
1. Skin care
Neem oil benefits skin health by treating acne, reducing dry skin, smoothing wrinkles, stimulating collagen production and reducing scars.
According to a 2014 study, neem oil produces an antimicrobial action on acne microbes. It is therefore successful for long-term treatment of acne (1).
Another study showed that when nine patients with scalp wounds were treated with neem oil, it helped in the healing process (2).
Neem oil is rich in fatty acids, triglycerides, vitamin E and calcium, which work to heal the minute cracks in the skin caused by extreme dryness. The fatty acids and vitamin E gets absorbed into the skin and restore the skin’s elasticity.
Neem oil is also known to stimulate collagen production, which helps to keep the skin looking young and healthy.
According to a 2017 study, topical application of neem leaf extract to photoaged mice skin was effective in treating the many symptoms of skin aging such as wrinkles, thickening, water loss and erythema (3).
Neem oil also helps keep the hair and scalp healthy and stimulates hair growth. The high level of antioxidants in neem oil supports healthy cell division and stimulates follicle growth and function.
Neem oil also protects the scalp from free-radical damage and thus prevents hair loss.
Several types of fungi including Malassezia and candida can cause dandruff. Neem oil also has antifungal properties, so it can treat the root cause of dandruff.
Eczema can cause red, itchy and flaky scalp. Neem oil contains an active compound known as nimbdin, which acts like a non-steroidal drug and reduces skin inflammation.
The glycerides and fatty acids in neem oil provide a protective barrier to the scalp and prevent hair loss.
Neem oil is also a very effective treatment for hair lice. According to a 2012 study, 12 children with severe lice infestation were treated with a neem seed extract containing shampoo for 10 minutes.
The result showed that none of the lice survived. Observation after ten days also revealed that there were no freshly hatched larval stages of lice in the hair of the children (4).
3. Mosquito repellent
The pesticide and germicide properties of neem make it an excellent insect repellent.
During one study the Malaria Research Centre in Delhi burned kerosene lamp with 1 percent neem oil in living rooms of the volunteers from 6 am to 6 pm. The neem oil reduced the number of bites on the volunteers.
During another study from 1995, neem oil mixed with coconut oil was applied to exposed body parts of volunteers in forested tribal villages in India. The results revealed 81 to 91 percent protection for 12 hours after application (5).
Mix ten drops of neem oil with a quarter cup of coconut oil. Spread this mixture on exposed skin to protect it from mosquito bites.
4. Bed bug repellent
People have used neem oil for thousands of years to protect themselves from insects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when you combine neem oil with approved agents, you can safely and effectively use it against bed bugs.
The EPA has issued a registration for TER-TRU1, a ready to use formulation for spot treatment of bed bugs that contains 5.5 percent cold-pressed neem oil.
TER-CX1, which contains 22 percent cold-pressed neem oil, is a concentrate formulation for commercial use in the treatment of whole rooms.
5. Natural insecticide
Neem oil usage as an insecticide has steadily gained popularity over the last few years. Azadirachtin, an active ingredient of neem oil is responsible for 90 percent of the effect of neem oil as an insecticide.
It interrupts the reproductive cycle of insects. Once you ingest it, neem oil affects the hormonal system of the insect, causing it to stop eating, molting, mating and laying eggs. This effect eventually sees the destruction of the insect population in the area.
Neem oil also has a strong odor which the insects do not like.
Neem oil is adequate protection against a wide variety of garden bugs including caterpillars, nematodes, locusts, beetles, mites, and aphids. It can also be used to deal with cockroaches, ants, flies, and termites.
6. Pet care
Neem oil can prevent fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites and mange mites in pets. Use a shampoo that contains neem oil or add organic neem oil to any pet shampoo. Add one part of neem oil to 20 parts of shampoo to make neem oil shampoo at home.
Neem oil shampoo keeps biting insects away from pets and also promotes healthy skin and a shiny coat. Make sure you leave this shampoo on the hair for a few minutes before you rinse it off.
You can also use neem oil on the skin of the pet. Dilute one portion of neem oil in the ten parts of a carrier oil like almond oil or grapeseed oil. Massage this oil on the problem area of your pet several times a day.
Ways to use neem oil
Always buy 100 percent pure organic neem oil. Pure neem oil is cloudy yellow and has strong sulfur or garlic-like odor. Always store this oil in a cool and dark place.
Always test neem oil on a small patch of skin before you use it for skin care. You can use undiluted neem oil for treatment of acne, and fungal infections.
Dab a small amount of neem oil on a cotton ball and apply it on the skin. Keep it for around 20 minutes and then wash off with warm water. For treating larger areas, mix it with a carrier oil and apply it on affected areas.
For using neem oil on your hair and scalp, dilute it with a base oil like olive, avocado, sesame or jojoba oil. Add a few drops of lavender oil to mask the smell. Mix all the ingredients and massage on the scalp. Leave it on for about an hour and wash it off.
For plants, you should not apply neem oil during hot weather on in direct sunlight. Treated plants should be kept in the shade. Since neem oil does not mix in water, add an emulsifier like insecticidal soap to this oil before you spray it on plants.
Risks and precautions
Neem oil is potent so it can cause a reaction in people with sensitive skin. Always do a patch test with diluted neem oil before you use in on your skin or scalp.
Hives, rashes, and difficulty in breathing could be signs of an allergic reaction to neem oil. In such cases, you must check with your doctor immediately.
Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use neem oil. If you are taking any medications, always consult with your doctor before using neem oil.
Neem oil is extracted from the seeds of the neem tree, also known as Indian Lilac. It has been used for thousands of years to treat various illnesses and skin conditions.
Its active ingredients include azadirachtin, nimbin, picrin, and sialin. It also contains essential fatty acids, limonoids, triglycerides, antioxidants, vitamin E and calcium.
Neem oil is used to treat various skin conditions, prevent dandruff, prevent bed bug infestations. You can also use it as a mosquito repellent, natural insecticide and to prevent ticks and fleas in pets.