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What is Neem Oil?

By S. Mithra
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Neem oil is a natural oil extracted from Azadirachta indica plants. Despite its pungent smell, this oil has many uses. It's found in shampoos, lotions, and soaps, particularly those for soothing skin. Though it's not suitable for cooking, very diluted neem oil does play a part in many traditional medicines, particularly for skin problems. Many farmers also use this oil as a natural selective pesticide, and its ability to repel bugs makes it a common ingredient in natural anti-lice and mosquito formulas.

How It's Made

All neem oil is made from the olive-like fruits and seeds of the neem tree. High quality oils are made by crushing the plant parts, while lower quality ones are made by using solvents to extract the oil. All parts of a neem tree are useful — for instance, neem leaves can also be included in a bath to ease skin conditions — but generally speaking products using one part of a neem tree can't be substituted for products that use other parts. For instance, neem toothpaste can only be made with the bark or leaf extracts of a neem tree, not the oil. This is because ingesting pure neem oil or lots of diluted oil can be toxic, though is generally safe for external use as long as it's used as directed.

Cosmetic and Medicinal Uses

There are neem-based products for both humans and animals. Many people use neem oil shampoo to repel lice and soothe scalp itching and inflammation. It's antibacterial and antiseptic, and will also discourage fungi and parasites, so it's also used in soaps and lotions to soothe and protect skin. These characteristics make neem oil a key part of many traditional medicines as well, particularly for skin conditions like eczema, ringworm, scabies, and athlete's foot. It is also massaged into arthritic joints to relieve pain, and into the scalp to treat dandruff.

A Natural Pesticide

Neem oil is quite popular as a natural pesticide, since it doesn't strongly affect humans, mammals, or beneficial bugs but can keep away pests white flies, aphids, mites, and weevils. It can also strengthen crops against rust, scab, mildew, and blight. Pesticides made with this oil work as "contact" insecticides, which means that they make plants taste bitter so pests won't eat them. Azadirachtin, a chemical in the oil, also interrupts insects' transitions between different stages of metamorphosis, such as growing from larvae to pupae, and prevents insects from developing a hardened exoskeleton. When the chemical gets absorbed through the roots of crops, it functions as a "systemic insecticide," which means crops don't need to be constantly re-sprayed.

The greatest benefit of using neem oil is that it doesn't harm beneficial insects. Butterflies, earthworms, and bees all help plants pollinate or absorb nutrients. Lacewings eat insects trying to feed on the crops. These bugs do not have a negative reaction to neem pesticides or azadirachtin.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Teatree12 — On Oct 01, 2012

My boyfriend has severe eczema and did the treatment with Neem leaf pills. I guess he took too much because if you read articles on side effects of Neem it can cause liver damage, seizures, miscarriages, death of infants, or even worsen your condition you're trying to treat, etc.

Since then, my boyfriend hasn't been able to tolerate processed sugars, or even natural sugars found in fruit. Neem changed his life, but for the worse. I was wondering if there is a way to reverse the negative effects of Neem?

By anon249043 — On Feb 19, 2012

Does neem oil work against white fly? My entire yard is infested: hibiscus hedge, palm bushes, banana trees and avocado tree. How can I apply it to the tree? It's very tall.

By anon105332 — On Aug 20, 2010

do you want sri lankan neem oil?

By anon74431 — On Apr 02, 2010

Good information about Neem oil, if you want to purchase quality neem oil with bulk quantity you can try Plasma Neem oil.

By anon73128 — On Mar 25, 2010

anon578: Good neem oil, like Einstein Oil, that is 100 percent first extraction, cold pressed neem oil, doesn't expire. As long as it is kept in a closed container so that it stays clean it will last indefinitely.

By anon71324 — On Mar 18, 2010

If you read the MSDS on Neem oil you will see that it is harmful toxic to bees and lady bugs. Also can be to aquatic life. Please understand this is not a slam, just a reminder that even as organic as we are, organic can be just as toxic.

We have to be just as careful. Organic may be better in some cases, but they are still pesticides and still can have broad reaching toxic effects on beneficials.

By anon5787 — On Dec 06, 2007

How long is neem oil good? Is it possible to visibly tell if the oil is no longer usable? Perhaps, the color changes or its odor disipates?

By anon5681 — On Dec 03, 2007

How can I use NEEM oil to treat insects that attack Hibiscus plants ?

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