Neem oil is a naturally occurring pesticide found in seeds from the neem tree. It is yellow-to-brown and has a bitter taste and a garlic-like smell. While it doesn’t sound very attractive, neem seed oil can be very beneficial by providing an all-natural pesticide that controls both pests and diseases.
Loaded with nutrients, neem oil is also used in natural skin care products because it contains high levels of antioxidants that help protect the skin from environmental damage. Neem helps fight free radical damage in the skin because it contains carotenoids, which provide high antioxidant compounds. As a result, cold-pressed neem oil and neem extracts are widely seen in cosmetics such as soap, hair products, cosmetics, 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.
What Is Neem Oil?
Neem oil comes from cold-pressing the seeds of the neem tree, which is a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia and Africa. Other names for neem include nim, nimba, holy tree, bead tree, Indian lilac and margosa.
The bark and leaves of the tree are also 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 evergreen.
What can neem oil be used for? Since the oil contains various active compounds that have insecticidal and medicinal properties, it has many uses and benefits. Neem seed oil is a common ingredient in various cosmetics including toothpastes, soaps, shampoos and more. One of this oil’s very interesting uses: it acts as a natural pesticide.
Neem seed oil is comprised of a mixture of components. 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 Current Science, it works as an effective non-toxic insect control agent to agriculture.
6 Major Benefits of Neem Oil
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) has reported 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:
Control programs using conventional insecticides to target anthropogenic mosquito habitats are very expensive because these habitats are widespread, particularly in cities of most African countries. Additionally, 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). Overall, the researchers conclude that “both types of preparations can be made and used by local people to control mosquito breeding in anthropogenic habitats, especially in urbanized areas.” Azadirachtin is the component of neem oil 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 also help to 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 also reports that you can use neem seed oil as safe, natural leaf polish, though some plants may be sensitive. A neem 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° F 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. Offers Wide-Ranging Skin Care Benefits, Including Help for Wrinkles, Dryness and Acne
Why is neem oil good for skin? The Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) states 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 are 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 seed oil without leaving the skin feeling too greasy. Once absorbed, these powerful skin-boosting ingredients can help to 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 to reduce many of the symptoms of skin aging, including thickening, wrinkles, moisture loss and redness. This study demonstrates how neem extract was able to prevent the formation of wrinkles in hairless mice subjects after UVB radiation. The researchers conclude that neem extract is a “promising anti-aging candidate for topical therapy products.”
5. Boosts Hair and Scalp Health
The use of neem oil for hair and scalp concerns is also common. With its fatty acid content, neem seed oil is great for improving dry hair and nourishing the scalp. With its anti-fungal 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.
6. May Help Against Malaria
A parasite transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes causes malaria. Neem oil makes for a great natural mosquito repellent that is safe to use. As reported in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, when two 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.