The tropical evergreen neem tree -- the Azadirachta indica native to Southeast Asia -- lends its oils to skin products ranging from lotions to soaps to masks. While ancient Ayurveda medicinal systems turned to neem to ease skin disorders such as scrofula and septic sores, modern, all-natural skin-care enthusiasts can turn to topical forms of neem for cosmetic purposes. Neem is not a magical miracle cure for skin, but it does contain certain elements that may benefit the skin if used safely and properly.
Products with neem oil offer an alternative to synthetic anti-aging products, as the carotenoid content of neem lends it potentially protective qualities; according to a 2009 study published in “Toxicology and Industrial Health,” beta-carotene shields the skin against oxidative stress and ultraviolet radiation, helping reduce the signs of skin aging. Neem oil also contains vitamin C, a natural part of the skin's dermis and epidermis that features antioxidant properties and encourages collagen production. Like cartenoids, vitamin C helps prevent photodamage to the skin. Additionally, the fatty acids of neem oil serve as a moisturizer.
Antiseptics for Acne
Neem oil features antiseptic properties, which may help those suffering from acne. The plant contains quercetin, an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory flavonoid. Antibacterial agents help reduce acne in some cases, as pimples form due to the occurrence of bacteria in clogged follicles, which contributes to the creation of inflamed red pustules. Quercetin also serves as an antioxidant, which helps reduce membrane-damaging free radicals.
Just as quercetin may help reduce redness, neem oil features other anti-inflammatory components. Neem tree seeds, which produce neem oil, contain 28 liminoids -- chiefly nimbin and its derivatives. As reported by a 2009 study in the “Journal of Oleo Science,” these liminoids exhibit marked anti-inflammatory properties with almost no toxicity. Anti-inflammatory agents such as these can ease the appearance of redness on the skin.
Before incorporating neem oil into your topical skin-care regimen, consult your dermatologist and get an allergy test from your doctor, as you may be allergic to neem. For maximum safety, stick to professionally manufactured, natural neem oil cosmetics, which dilute neem with other natural ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut oil, oatmeal, jojoba oil and tea tree oil. Neem oil-based skin-care products are applied topically via soaps, lotions, shampoos and masks. You can also take neem supplements or massage the oil into your skin, but keep pure neem oil away from children, as ingestion may cause vomiting or drowsiness.
- Purdue University: Neem Tree Morphology and Oil Content
- Neem: A Tree for Solving Global Problems: National Research Council
- Skin and Allergy News: Cosmeceutical Critique: Neem
- NCBI PubMed.gov: Beta-Carotene Prevents Ozone-Induced Proinflammatory Markers in Murine Skin
- Oregon State University: Vitamin C and Skin Health
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Quercetin
- Columbia University Department of Dermatology: Acne
- NCBI PubMed.gov: Melanogenesis Inhibitory, Anti-Inflammatory and Chemopreventive Effects of Liminoids from Seeds of Azadiracta Indicia A. Juss (Neem)
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Neem
- Neem: Benefits for Health and the Environment: Pamela Paterson, MS
- The Oz Blog: Herb of the Month: Neem
- bdspn/iStock/Getty Images