Neem Oil: An Ancient Remedy for Clear, Blemish-Free Skin
by Heather Smith on Oct 06, 2022
Using neem oil on skin goes back centuries, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine practices in India. It has been used in traditional treatments for ailments ranging from skin and hair, to dental, to reproductive.
For cosmetic use, neem is an ingredient with skin benefits. Specifically, it's clarifying, toning, and antimicrobial effects make neem oil acne treatments quite popular.
This article continues our face oil article series; neem oil has many skin benefits worth highlighting. Neem oil makes it onto our list of best, specialized face oils, particularly for acne-prone skin.
What is Neem Oil?
Neem oil is extracted from the seeds of the neem tree, named Azadirachta indica. It's a member of the Meliaceae family and a tropical evergreen native to Africa and Southeast Asia.
This large tree grows fast and can reach 40 - 80 feet. Azadirachta indica endures heat and drought and can grow for more than 200 years. The tree's bark and leaves, as well as, less frequently, its flowers, fruit, and roots, can be used medicinally. Because it is an evergreen, harvesting and production can occur year-round.
For centuries, the Indian people have relied on this tree to improve health and treat various illnesses. Additionally, it's been used as a natural fertilizer and insecticide for the fields in addition to safeguarding food and grains that have been harvested and stored.
Other names for neem are holy tree, nimba, nim, bead tree, margosa, and Indian lilac.
Neem oil has a strong nutty/garlic scent. Colour varies from yellowish green to dark brown.
What Does Neem Oil Contain?
Flavonoids, limonoids, and terpenoids are some of the substances that make up neem seed oil.
The most active ingredient, azadirachtin, is used as a natural pesticide and also has anti-fungal and insect repelling properties. The residue that remains after this active component has been extracted is referred to as clarified hydrophobic neem oil.
The primary fatty acids in neem oil are Oleic Acid, Palmitic Acid, Stearic Acid, and Linoleic Acid. It is also rich in Vitamin E and carotenoids.
The phytochemical nimbin is associated with antiseptic, antifungal, antipyretic and antihistamine properties.
Possible Medicinal Benefits of Neem
In the skincare world, it's not appropriate for us to overgeneralize data and ascribe drug benefits to a specific ingredient. However, it is interesting to read about the different potential benefits that are being studied or considered possible.
These studies are often done on animals or are testing hypotheses based on what happens at the cellular level - something skincare claims must avoid.
Scientists have recently started to examine how neem compounds impact health and skin conditions. A scientific review found that neem extracts can help treat certain skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, warts, and ringworm.
Antibacterial and Anti-Acne
Research looked at the antibacterial properties of cosmetics made using neem components. The scientists discovered that soaps containing neem leaf or bark extracts inhibited the development of numerous bacterial strains. This makes neem useful as a natural remedy for acne. In addition, this may allow it to function as a natural preservative in products.
Enhanced Wound Healing
Researchers suggested that compounds found in neem oil help enhance blood vessel and connective tissue growth, promoting wound healing. Another study examined whether a gel made of neem oil and St. John's wort may lessen the skin toxicity caused by radiation treatment. Twenty-eight people undergoing radiation treatment for head and neck cancer participated in the study. Following the use of the gel, the individuals saw some improvement in their skin.
Stimulate Collagen Production and Fight Photoaging
Neem oil contains potent antioxidants that fight free radicals and other compounds that help prevent premature aging. The anti-aging effects are enhanced by reduced transepidermal water loss and skin redness. In addition, Neem aids in increasing levels of proteins and enzymes that help produce collagen and elastin. It also may prevent or reverse damage caused by UVB exposure.
Benefits of Neem Oil on Skin
It's thought that neem balances oil production and minimizes skin inflammation and post-acne scars. Likely due to the combination of antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects, neem oil is often found in natural anti-acne cleansers and creams and in products designed for soothing and relieving redness.
The main benefits of neem oil for the face are:
- Clarifying and improving the complexion
- Improving both texture and suppleness
- Improved appearance of acne, scars, and redness
Will neem clog pores? Unlikely.
Neem oil has a comedogenic rating of 1-2, indicating a minimal likelihood of pore clogging. Although it may be used on various skin types, it works best on dry and acne-prone skin.
Are There Risks to Using Neem on Skin
I find neem oil to be ugly and stinky compared to most other oils. Depending on how it is processed, it has a brownish colour and a pungent, sometimes garlicky odour.
bareLUXE considers neem to be a specialty oil with unique properties, not a true carrier oil. Therefore, we don't recommend using neem at a concentration of 100% on your face, except possibly for targeted spot treatments.
To avoid side effects, any new ingredients should have a proper patch test before using broadly, especially on your face and especially if you have sensitive skin.
What about the fact neem is used as a natural pesticide?
Topical and environmental neem is considered to be non-toxic to humans and animals. Depending on its use, it functions as an insect deterrent, not necessarily killer. Concentrated azadirachtin is the phytochemical behind repelling and killing insects, though it is not a risk to pollinators or beneficial garden insects. The azadirachtin content of neem oil varies from 300 ppm to over 2500 ppm, depending on the extraction technology and quality of the neem seeds.
Neem oil can be associated with toxicity if ingested and should be for external use only. Keep out of reach of children and animals.
How to Dilute Neem Oil For Skin Use
Spot treating problem areas with a drop of neem oil (full-strength) is possible using a q-tip or cotton ball.
The other option is to dilute neem using a non-comedogenic carrier oil. Many internet resources suggest you start by diluting neem equal parts 1:1. This results in a 50% concentration that may be fine for many people. However, we like starting low and increasing once you know your skin barrier won't react.
Since concentrated neem oil is pungent and powerful, we suggest you start with a concentration of 4% neem. You can do this by mixing 5 ml (1 teaspoon) in 125 ml (1/2 cup) of carrier oil. After using that for a while, you may wish to increase the concentration - just add more. Many people will find this is plenty and effective. However, some people will prefer to drop to half a teaspoon or about 2%.
Neem has a great capacity to endure heat, air, and water pollution, which makes it very valuable in urban forestry. Neem is ideal for agro-forestry since it also aids in restoring and keeping soil fertility. It is a natural resource for maintaining a clean environment.
Neem oil is an exciting ingredient that has centuries of medicinal use. Modern science is working to determine the role neem and the extracted phytochemicals could play in wound healing, other skin conditions, and some diseases.
For cosmetic use, neem is an ingredient with many skin benefits. Specifically, it is useful in products designed to be clarifying, toning, and restorative.
My take on neem oil is that it is a useful, natural remedy for acne. Even in lower concentrations than 2%. However, as a skincare formulator, it's very difficult to work with. It's malodorous and often has floating particulate matter. Additionally, it's not safe for ingestion and I do my R&D work at home with toddlers and pets - so bareLUXE products don't currently contain neem oil. Our upcoming clarifying oil for acne-prone skin contains plenty of amazing, effective ingredients that are easier to work with.