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Neem oil: 10 benefits for hair & skin

bottle of neem oil for hair and skin on wooden table
High in fatty acids, neem oil is a nourishing skin and hair moisturiser. It's cleansing, soothing, and antifungal properties make it ideal for soothing red, inflamed, and blemish-prone skin.

Neem oil comes from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree, native to the Indian subcontinent. 

Most commonly, people use it as an organic insecticide - but don’t worry! It’s safe for humans’ skin and hair and has been used for centuries to help us shine.1

We’re diving into the many benefits of neem oil to find how it could help your hair and skincare routine. 

In this article, we’ll go through:

A bit more about neem oil

Neem oil is full of fatty acids called palmitic, linoleic, and oleic acids. 

Palmitic acid and oleic acid are emollients, substances that keep skin and hair soft and smooth. They’re a key ingredient in moisturisers for this reason. 

Linoleic acid (also known as vitamin F) is a humectant that fortifies the skin’s barrier. This keeps moisture in and helps to protect against the UV rays and pollutants you face every day. 

These three fatty acids work together in neem oil to provide natural moisture to the skin and hair and lock it in while keeping harmful substances out. 

It’s also rich in antioxidants, which help with the negative effects of free radicals.

Many people use neem oil for plants as an organic pesticide: it’s biodegradable, doesn’t pollute water, and insects won’t build up a tolerance to it over time. So why not put it to use in your garden, too?

Neem oil benefits for hair

Neem oil may help encourage hair growth and scalp health thanks to its moisturising properties. It’s said to assist in:

  1. Encouraging healthy hair growth

Regularly massaging neem oil into your scalp can help stimulate the follicles responsible for hair growth.

Its cleansing and soothing properties make it particularly useful for scalp issues that may be impacting healthy hair development. 

Since hair grows from the follicle, you’re treating it directly at the source - and a healthy follicle is a good indicator of thick, healthy growth to come. 

  1. Reducing dandruff

Neem oil is a fantastic hydrator and can help to moisturise a dry, flaky scalp.

Dandruff is mainly caused by a fungal microbe called malassezia globosa, which feeds on the fatty acids your scalp naturally produces.

The more oil there is to feed on, the more it grows. But if the malassezia grows too much, it can disrupt the scalp’s skin cell renewal and cause skin to cluster together in what we know as dandruff. 

Applying another fatty acid may seem contradictory, but neem oil is naturally cleansing and soothing and helps to control the excess malassezia growth. 

  1. Smoothing frizz

Frizz happens when your hair’s cuticles aren’t lying flat, and they’re open to absorbing moisture from the atmosphere.

The humectant vitamin F in neem oil is responsible for protecting the cuticle barrier and sealing humidity out. 

Combined with its softening properties, using neem oil for hair could help it look smoother and sleeker. 

  1. Defending against hair loss 

Hair loss can occur for several reasons - but emerging evidence suggests that oxidative stress is a common contributor.2 

Oxidative stress occurs when a high number of free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells) are present in the body. Factors like pollution and UV rays can all contribute to free radical presence. 

Handpicked content: What is anti-pollution skincare?

A high presence of free radicals can cause damage to your body’s cells and, in the hair, contribute to premature greying and hair loss. 

Neem oil is full of antioxidants, which disarm the free radicals and help to maintain a more stable composition of atoms. 

  1. Deterring head lice

In the garden, neem oil is a pesticide - so it makes sense that it can do the same on your head.

Applying diluted neem oil to your scalp can help control head lice infestations by killing lice and their eggs.3

How can you apply neem oil to your hair?

You can:

  • Warm your diluted neem oil slightly (not enough to be hot) and massage directly onto the scalp and through the length of the hair for about 20 minutes at a time. Keep the oil on for about two hours before washing out and repeat weekly. 
  • Add 1-2 teaspoons to your shampoo or conditioner for everyday haircare. Or, you can find hair products that already contain neem oil. 
  • Maintain soft hair and help to ward off head lice with a neem oil spray. Dilute cold-pressed neem oil with water in a spray bottle and mist thoroughly over the hair.

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Neem oil benefits for skin

So, why use neem oil on your skin?

Its cleansing and soothing properties mean it can help give skin a well-earned break after recurring breakouts or skin concerns.

  1. Gentle on blemish-prone skin 

Good news! Neem oil has cleansing properties and helps to fight sensitivity in the skin. 

It can make a good complementary product for blemish-prone skin and keeps the face and body in good stead to help protect against further breakouts. 

While neem oil is good at moisturising dry skin, it may also be useful for oily blemish-prone types.

It’s rated as a 1-2 on the comedogenic scale (which runs from 0-5), which means it’s officially non-comedogenic and has a low likelihood of clogging pores. 

The Vitamin F (linoleic acid) in neem oil could also support healthy skin.

A 2002 study found that topical application of linoleic acid showed an almost 25% decrease in the appearance of spots compared with a placebo.³

  1. Helps soothe skin concerns such as eczema and psoriasis

This nourishing oil is rich in fatty acids like palmitic, linoleic, and oleic acids.

It also contains natural antihistamines - the same substances used to relieve symptoms of allergies.

Thanks to this, neem oil may help ease the uncomfortable itching and swelling associated with eczema and psoriasis. 

  1. Can help you age well 

Think of “F” for “fatty acids”: vitamin F is loaded with moisturising fats and omega oils. 

A main component of vitamin F, the linoleic acid in neem oil is an excellent moisturiser and can assist your skin in healthy ageing.

Linoleic acid is a humectant, which strengthens the skin’s barrier. It keeps moisture in and pollutants out. 

Not only will this promote plumper, brighter skin, but it can help protect against free radicals: collagen-destroying molecules which contribute to uneven skin tone, texture, and fine lines and wrinkles.

Even better, using neem oil for skin has been found to increase levels of a collagen-producing enzyme (procollagen) and a protein called elastin.4

Collagen gives skin its plump, youthful appearance, and elastin helps to retain skin firmness and shape.

  1. Helps brighten uneven skin tone

As we mentioned before, neem oil helps to maintain a strong skin barrier and makes it more difficult for free radicals to get in. It’s also rich in antioxidants which help repair skin cells and stabilise existing free radicals.

Free radical damage can contribute to the hyperpigmentation we see as we age. So, if you’re experiencing discolouration, redness, and uneven skin tone, you might benefit from neem oil. 

  1. Freshens your feet 

Our feet take a toll every day… As one of our sweatiest areas, it’s easy for bacteria to build up and cause issues like odour or athlete’s foot

Neem oil’s cleansing and soothing properties help kill the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot and balance the environment that foot conditions like to thrive in. 

How can you apply neem oil to your skin?

You can:

  • Dilute pure neem oil with a carrier oil and massage over sensitive or dry skin. Look for organic neem oil that’s 100% cold-pressed. 
  • Help defend blemish-prone skin with a daily face wash containing neem oil.  
  • Mix neem oil into your moisturiser and massage into clean feet to help protect against fungal issues and stave off odours. 

Are there any side effects of neem oil?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls neem oil a low toxicity substance.⁵

This means that it is considered safe to apply to the skin and hair, but users should not ingest

it. Consuming large amounts could have potential side effects such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Liver damage
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Encephalopathy (brain disease, disorder, or damage)

especially in children - so be sure to keep it out of their reach when not in use. 

One thing to be aware of when using neem oil is its potent smell! The two most common descriptions are “garlic” and “sulphur”, so it’s certainly a strong mix and this should be considered before you give it a go. 

Also, it naturally has a waxy consistency and can be tricky to massage directly into the hair and skin. It’s recommended to mix neem oil with a carrier oil like coconut, jojoba, or almond oil to mask its scent and make it easier to apply. 

Some people can be allergic to neem oil. Users should perform a patch test before using neem oil for the first time. Place some on a small area of skin (usually on your arm). If there is no adverse reaction - like swelling, itching, or redness - after 24 hours, it should be safe to use on other areas of the body. 

You should always check with your GP before using neem oil if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive

Why choose neem oil over other oils?

Neem oil might not be your first thought when it comes to hair and skin oils. There are other “hair and skin wonders” like argan, rosehip, and coconut oils that may be more popular on the market. 

Neem oil has 8 times the linoleic acid of coconut oil and is higher in the softening oleic acid than both coconut and rosehip oils.78910 Coconut oil is also severely comedogenic (4), so it’s not recommended for facial use on oily or combination skin.

Want to keep dry, sagging skin at bay? Neem oil is higher in palmitic acid than argan oil, another fantastic hair and skin moisturiser.

Palmitic acid can decrease by as much as 56% in ageing skin, so those looking to age well might look to neem oil over argan oil to help maintain a plump, youthful appearance.11

The final say

While it may not be the most well-known on the block, the benefits of neem oil make it a must-try for dry, sensitive skin and brittle hair

Rich in the antioxidants that disarm free radicals, incorporating neem oil into your routine could help you age well and maintain soft, smooth skin and hair for years to come. What’s not to love?

Last updated: 27 July 2022

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. 

If you have sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, acne or rosacea, consult a dermatologist before trying any treatments.

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