Neem oil is extracted from the whole fruit and seeds of the tropical tree Azadirachta indica, also known as the Indian Lilac. As the name indicates, this tree is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent where it enjoys the status as a sacred tree and cure-all. This medium-sized evergreen tree now has a worldwide distribution, growing wild in almost any kind of soil and terrain in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
In India, it is commonly cultivated in many home gardens. In the earlier days when it was quite common for every family to have a dozen or more children, a neem tree in the backyard could meet most of their medical needs.
Even the wind blowing through the foliage is thought to have healing properties. Neem tree was the proverbial medicine chest that provided effective cures for anything from intestinal worms to skin ailments and fevers. Despite their bitter taste, neem twigs crushed at one end served as toothbrushes, and the flowers would be used in cooking.
Neem oil is a brownish yellow liquid with a strong garlicky smell and extremely bitter taste. The biochemical compounds contributing to the antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic properties of neem oil belong to a group of triterpenoid compounds known as limonoids, which are also found in the citrus family. Azadirachtin, nimbin, nimbolide, meliantriol and salannin are some of the limonoids found in neem, the most potent among them being azadirachtin.
The insecticidal properties of azadirachtin are well known, and have been exploited in many organic pesticides. Every part of the plant, including the bark and the roots, contain these active compounds, and has been used extensively in indigenous medicine, but herbal remedies mainly make use of the leaves because of their easy availability.
Neem oil of the highest quality is obtained through cold pressing, and the oil cake left behind after this process is then subjected to solvent extraction to get lower grade oil. This is mainly used in industrial products such as neem-based soaps, fungicides, pesticides etc. When you buy neem oil for cosmetic and medicinal use, make sure that it is high quality, cold pressed, pure oil, such as this Dr. Adorable Neem Oil.
Now let us take a look at how you can use this versatile oil to naturally promote your health and beauty.
1. Condition Dry Skin
Neem oil is an excellent skin conditioner, particularly for dry skin which is most commonly found on the face, hands and the feet because they are the most exposed and most frequently washed parts of the body. Being hydrophobic in nature, neem oil does not mix with water, so it locks in moisture when applied in a thin layer over the skin. Neem oil also resists getting washed off when we wash our hands and face to get rid of dust and grime.
Because of its potency, application of neem oil at full strength can irritate skin and may also be quite offensive due to its pungent odor. Instead, try diluting neem with coconut oil and mix in a few drops of lemon or lavender essential oil to make it more tolerable on the skin as well as the olfactory sense.
Further Reading: 10 Ways To Replace Your Personal Care Products With Coconut Oil
2. Control Acne
Acne may be an outcome of the overproduction of sebum by the skin glands under the influence of reproductive hormones, but it usually becomes a bigger problem with bacterial proliferation inside the hair follicles. Even at very low concentrations, regular use of neem oil can effectively inhibit bacterial growth and is a much safer alternative to antibacterial face washes, lotions and creams which often contain toxic chemicals.
Neem oil is anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce the redness, pain and itching associated with acne. The high fatty acid content of the oil also helps to heal skin damaged by acne and reduce the potential for scarring or pitting.
To use neem oil for acne control, warm a teaspoonful of coconut oil or olive oil and mix in 10 drops of organic cold-pressed neem oil. Apply on the face and wash it off after an hour, or leave it overnight, depending on your tolerance level.
Further Reading: 10 Super Clever Natural Ways To Remove Acne Scars
3. Relieve Eczema and Psoriasis
Eczema is an allergic reaction to external irritants while psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Although neem oil cannot cure either of the conditions, it can help bring down the associated inflammation. It can also soften the skin on the affected area by forming a protective layer that prevents the skin from drying out.
Frequent scratching of the affected area often results in cuts and breaks in the skin that can then become the breeding ground of germs, exacerbating the skin condition. Neem oil can effectively prevent such complications.1
4. Reduce Skin Pigmentation
Overproduction of melanin in some areas of the skin can mar the complexion. With regular use, neem oil can lighten areas of hyper pigmentation by down regulating melanin production. Spot application with an ear bud dipped in the oil may be sufficient for small areas. Check for sensitivity on your inner arm area before using full strength oil on affected areas on the face or neck.
5. Counteract the Ill Effects of Sun Exposure
Exposure to the harmful effects of the ultraviolet radiation through sun exposure can damage the skin on several levels besides causing painful inflammation. UV rays penetrate through the outer layers of the skin and destroy the collagen layer underneath. It results in the formation of fine lines that make the skin look aged. This is known as photo aging, and is as real as the normal aging process.
Ultraviolet rays also produce free radicals in the skin, which have the potential to trigger skin cancer. You may be taking ample precautions when you expect to be out in the sun, but sometimes accidental exposure can occur. Neem oil can be an excellent post-exposure remedy. Its anti-inflammatory property reduces pain and redness on the skin, the antioxidants in the oil can take care of the free radicals and the fatty acids can help restore collagen to some extent.
6. Use As An Antiseptic
Neem oil is contained in many antiseptic soaps, toothpastes and mouth wash liquids. The bitter taste of the oil makes it difficult to use for dental hygiene, but it can be used externally as a hand rub and surface cleaner. The bitterness can actually dissuade young children from putting unwashed fingers in their mouth, and perhaps help avoid many episodes of childhood diarrhea.
Neem oil can be used to treat minor cuts and bruises on the skin too. Just dab it on to prevent infections setting in.
7. Pest Control Inside the Home
Insect pests in the house may range from ants to cockroaches, but if you are reluctant to use systemic poisons in the house, neem oil can come to your aid. Dip cotton balls in neem oil and wipe around doors, windows and other entry points to keep the pests away from your home. A few cotton balls dipped in the oil can be kept in kitchen cabinets, cupboards and drawers to repel them.
It is interesting to note that, while neem oil is highly toxic to insects, it does not have a similar effect in humans. The unique mechanism of action of this biological insecticide is responsible for this selectivity. Unlike many insecticides, neem oil does not kill the insects on contact. On the contrary, it mimics the hormones that control their growth and development, preventing molting, and thus disrupting their well orchestrated metamorphic cycle. Neem oil also repels insects, reducing their feeding and starving them to death. It has a somewhat similar effect on intestinal worms too.
8. Control Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew in the house can cause respiratory distress and serious immune reactions that can be highly debilitating, if not life threatening. The antifungal property of neem oil can be put to good use in the home. Mix it with liquid cleaners and spray it on areas prone to mold growth. Add a few drops to your leather cleaner when polishing leather sofas and luggage.
Further Reading: 6 Natural Ways To Rid Your Home Of Mold & Mildew
9. Treat Indoor Plants
Indoor plants may develop a number of fungal infections as well as infestation by aphids, spider mites and scale insects. If you’re using chemical agents to control them, it can considerably deteriorate the indoor air quality and jeopardize your health. Treat the plants with 2 teaspoons of neem oil mixed in a gallon of water. Since neem oil does not mix with water, you need to add a surfactant such as a few drops of dishwashing liquid or detergent. Spray it on to control insects, powdery mildew, and rust. Pour the liquid in the root zone if you suspect root rot.
Neem oil works great on outdoor plants, too! Read more about using neem and other oils for natural garden pest control in this great article: 9 Clever Ways To Use Essential Oils In The Garden!
10. Get Rid of Hair and Body Lice
This problem is not as common as it used to be, nevertheless, lice infestation is occasionally seen among school children. If your child comes home with head lice, refrain from using commercial products which may contain highly toxic chemical insecticides. Neem oil is an excellent insecticide; it can get rid of lice from the hair and the body, nit and all.
Warm 2 tablespoons of neem oil and apply it on the hair. Tie a scarf or towel over the head and leave the oil on overnight. The next day, you may be able to spot the carcasses of dead lice on the scarf/towel. Wash the hair thoroughly with a herbal shampoo. If itching persists, repeat the process.
11. Parasite Control For Pets
Cats, dogs, and other household pets may be carrying several external and internal parasites that can not only cause discomfort to the animals but can pose a threat to human health as well. Neem oil has wide ranging antiparasitic activity against ticks, fleas, ear mites, and mange commonly found in dogs.
Neem has antihelminthic effect too, and may be given to pets to control internal parasites. However, neem oil can have toxic effects on smaller animals like cats if ingested in too large of quantity. Instead of the oil, you can also use neem leaf to control internal parasites.
Neem has a strong odor which cats and dogs may find offensive. Try mixing powdered neem leaf with fish oil or coconut oil to encourage your pet to eat it
12. Treat Nail Infections
Nail infections can be very painful; they can be highly annoying too because we are using our hands and feet all the time. When you approach a doctor with a nail infection, a test might be performed to find out if the infection is bacterial or fungal before prescribing either an antibiotic or antifungal medication. Sometimes, your doctor may recommend the removal of the affected nail to facilitate quicker healing. With neem oil, you might just be able to skip these steps.
Place one or two drops of neem oil on the affected nail and allow it to soak in. Repeat the application 2-3 times a day and continue until the infection is completely resolved. It may take anything from 5 days to a week, but it is totally worth taking this natural course.
Further Reading: Top 10 Natural Remedies For Toenail Fungus
13. Heal Dandruff
Neem oil is a common ingredient in many organic anti-dandruff shampoos because of its proven efficacy in controlling this condition. Regular application of neem can help to reduce scalp dryness and itching which may be contributing to the dandruff problem. Neem will also help to prevent secondary bacterial and fungal infections which may complicate or worsen scalp conditions like dandruff.
To use neem for dandruff control, warm a teaspoon of organic cold-pressed neem oil and massage it gently into the scalp. Wash it off after half an hour. Again, if your scalp is very sensitive, neem oil may be diluted with an equal amount of coconut oil to prevent irritation.
Further Reading: 6 Clever Ways To Use Coconut Oil For Gorgeous Hair
14. Treat Fungal Infections of the Skin and Scalp
Fungal infections can develop on the skin in areas such as skin folds and folding joints where dampness remains. Athlete’s foot and ringworm are common fungal infections. Once they develop, they can continue to be a long term problem as many fungicidal medications fail to wipe out the infections completely. They are highly toxic compounds too.
The effectiveness of neem oil against several different types of parasitic fungi has been established through laboratory studies. It can be safely used on the affected skin; it is even suitable for intimate use. Skin sensitivity should be tested before using the oil at full strength. Dilution with almond oil or coconut oil is recommended for sensitive skin.
Avoid the irritation of fungal or bacterial infections altogether. Try this wonderful Organic Neem Oil Soap by Vi-Tae to prevent future problems and keep your skin healthy and blemish-free!
15. Grow Healthier Hair
Neem oil is a good hair care product in that it can protect the hair from becoming frizzy, especially in high-humidity conditions such as during the rainy season or when you are out on a beach holiday. The problem lies in the hygroscopic property of the hair; it absorbs moisture and swells up in an irregular fashion, making the hair frizzy. Neem oil, on the other hand, is hydrophobic, repelling water. When applied to the hair, neem oil forms a thin shield that prevents the hair from absorbing water from the environment. Regular application on the scalp can keep it moisturized and less vulnerable to infections and other chronic skin conditions.
Want more great ideas for using organic plant oils to bolster your natural beauty routine? Read up on these 17 Anti-Aging Oils For Beautiful Skin + Recipes!