Neem oil is a naturally-occurring pesticide that is found in the seeds of the neem tree. The neem tree is and evergreen tree, and it is native to India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; however, it can be successfully grown in tropical and semi-tropical locations. The oil has a bitter taste and a fairly strong odor similar to sulfur or garlic. The active component in neem oil is azadirachtin. It has historically been used in cosmetics and in solutions to repel or kill pests. After the azadirachtin has been extracted, clarified hydrophic neem oil is the product.
The neem tree components are used in various ways for medicinal purposes. The bark, leaves, and seeds are used from the tree based on their individual properties.
Neem leaves and oil
Generally used for leprosy, eye disorders, stomach or intestinal maladies, skin ulcers, and diabetes.
Neem bark and twigs
Generally used for upper and lower abdominal issues, such as malaria, stomach and intestinal ulcers, and they may also be used to treat fever and certain skin diseases.
Generally used for abdominal issues, such as controlling bile or treating worms, and it may also be used to control phlegm.
Generally used for treating urinary and lower intestinal issues, such as infections or hemorrhoids. It may be used in treatments for the eyes, certain types of diabetes, and leprosy.
Neem has been applied directly to the skin to treat head lice, skin diseases, wounds, and skin ulcers; as a mosquito repellent; and as a skin softener.
Neem oil has been used in cosmetic products for thousands of years particularly in India. Its popularity has grown in recent years in Europe and in the United States. The oil has been shown to have antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It is packed with nutrients such as fatty acids and vitamin E, and it contains high levels of antioxidants to protect the skin from environmental damage and can be purchased over-the-counter at health food stores and many retail outlets.
Neem oil can be irritating to the eyes and skin. When products containing neem oil are excessively used for flea control on cats, the animal may become sluggish, may salivate excessively, or experience convulsions. Physical movement may become impaired and the animal may tremble and twitch.
Neem oil appears to be non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees and plants and slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Children appear to be more sensitive than adults to pesticides containing neem oil. Neem oil and other neem-based products should not be consumed by pregnant women or women trying to conceive.
The clarified hydophic neem oil is made of fatty acids, essential oils and other substances that are commonly eaten in a normal diet. The United States Food and Drug Administration generally recognizes them as safe.
Uses and Applications
Besides pesticides, neem oil is used in a number of household products including toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, and pet shampoos. It can be delivered in the form of granules, dust, wettable powders or emulsifiable concentrates. Cosmetic uses have become popular and include:
- Anti-aging products;
- Products to treat acne;
- Products to treat dry or eczema-prone skin; and
- Products to treat nail fungus, ringworm, and athlete’s foot.
Neem oil appears to be effective for certain medical and cosmetic purposes when used as directed and in the recommended doses.
The strength and nature of azadirachtin, an active substance in neem oil, does have negative effects which have been shown through testing or case examples. The fact that this oil is the basis for products such as pesticides is a warning sign about the composition and potential effects of the product. If you are using it as a topical treatment, be vigilant for changes that might signal an adverse reaction and seek medical attention, if necessary.