Pressed from the fruits, twigs and seeds of the neem tree, neem (also known as Indian lilac) is a widespread evergreen in the Indian subcontinent that has been used for thousands of years as a part of ayurvedic medicine

“Most commonly used in skin and hair care products in both India and Bangladesh, neem oil is touted for its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic and anti-parasitic properties,” says Alexis Wolfer, beauty expert, nutritionist and creator of The Beauty Bean, an online beauty magazine. “Neem oil can soothe irritated skin, fade scars, lighten hyper-pigmentation, moisturize dry and cracked skin, restore damaged hair, control oil production, eliminate acne and heal eczema and psoriasis as well,” Wolfer says. That’s quite a lot of power for a slick oil.

You may have seen neem oil as an ingredient in body soaps, cleansers, hair care and anti-aging products. It’s mostly present in natural products that focus on healing dry skin, psoriasis, scalp problems and eczema.

Salah Boukadoum, co-founder of Soap Hope, a for-profit natural body product company with a nonprofit mission of lifting women out of poverty, says medical science is just now catching up to centuries of traditional wisdom on this powerful oil.

“This tree can live for over 100 years, and the oil is harvested sustainably from the seeds of its fruit,” says Boukadoum.

Raw neem oil has a medicinal aroma and the key to its potent healing benefits may lay in the vitamin E found in the oil.

“I recommend neem oil topically for eczema, nail fungus, athlete’s foot, bug bites, fungal rashes, ringworm and dermatitis. Internally, I recommend it for intestinal parasites and candida overgrowth,” says Nancy Guberti, MS, CN, biomedical nutritionist and functional medicine specialist in private practices in Connecticut and New York.

Guberti cautions that neem oil is unsafe for infants and children and not to be used by breastfeeding or pregnant women, those with autoimmune disorders, diabetes, infertility or those who’ve had organ transplant surgery. Neem oil may be effective in lowering blood sugar but diabetics should be monitored carefully when using the oil and work with their physician, especially if they are already on blood sugar-lowering medication, as neem oil may lower blood sugar too much.

While Guberti hasn’t personally recommended neem oil for birth control, there is some research to indicate the oil harms sperm. Animal studies suggest the oil prevents fertilized eggs from implanting. She also says it works like a charm on intestinal worms.

Some people apply neem directly to the skin to treat head lice, wounds, and skin ulcers; it’s also used as an insect repellent and has been used in other countries for flea control on pets.

Neem oil can be blended with jojoba, almond or tea tree oil as a carrier, which lessens the medicinal smell. Dosing depends on age, health and the location and type of rash, but Guberti advises working with a knowledgeable practitioner for both skin use and internal dosing.

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