Neem oil is a natural byproduct of the neem tree, a type of evergreen that primarily grows in India. The oil is pressed from the tree’s fruits and seeds.
This “wonder plant” has been widely used in traditional medicine and has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.
But can using neem oil really result in a healthier scalp and hair? Here’s what the research says, how to use it topically, and more.
Anecdotal reports suggest that neem can:
- condition your scalp
- promote healthy hair growth
- temporarily seal hair follicles
- soothe frizz
- minimize grays
- reduce dandruff
- treat head lice
Many of these claims have yet to be studied through clinical research, so its overall efficacy is unclear.
Research into the effects of neem oil on hair health is limited.
Neem oil is rich in:
- fatty acids
- vitamin E
Topical application delivers these nutrients directly to your hair, potentially resulting in healthier locks.
It’s also worth noting that vitamin E and other antioxidants can help skin cells regenerate. This may promote a healthier scalp, subsequently minimizing dandruff and resulting in healthier hair.
Neem oil contains the active ingredient nimbidin. Some older research suggests that nimbidin can help suppress inflammation, which may make it useful in treating dermatitis, psoriasis, or other scalp irritation.
Neem is also a known antifungal. In some cases, dandruff and irritation can result from yeast buildup on the scalp.
Although more research is needed, there’s reason to believe that topical application may help alleviate these symptoms.
Researchers in one 2011 study found that neem seed extract successfully killed head lice larvae after 5 minutes of treatment and adult head lice after 10 minutes of treatment.
This may be due to the oil’s azadirachtin content. Azadirachtin can make it difficult for insects to grow and lay eggs by interfering with their hormones.
Anecdotal reports suggest that topical application is the go-to approach. Some people also consider oral supplementation.
Although tag-teaming with both oral and topical neem oil may be an option, you should start by using one method only. This will allow you to see how your body reacts.
You should also talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider before using both oral and topical neem.
You should always dilute pure neem oil with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, olive, or coconut oil, prior to topical application.
A good rule of thumb is to add 1 ounce of carrier oil for every 12 drops of neem oil.
You should also complete a patch test before applying diluted neem oil or over-the-counter (OTC) solutions containing neem oil to your hair or skin. This will allow you to identify any sensitivity prior to full application.
To do a patch test:
- Apply a dime-sized amount of diluted neem oil or neem oil-based product to the inside of your forearm.
- Cover the area with a bandage and wait 24 hours.
- If you experience redness, hives, or other signs of irritation, wash the area and discontinue use.
- If you don’t experience any side effects within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
If your skin tolerates the solution, you can move forward with a full application.
You can leave diluted neem oil on for 30 minutes to 1 hour before rinsing and washing with your usual shampoo.
If you don’t want to do the standard oil treatment, you can mix a couple of drops of neem oil with a quarter-sized dollop of your usual shampoo.
Either way, make sure you thoroughly massage the solution into your scalp and work it from roots to ends.
You can apply diluted neem oil once per day for 1 to 2 hours at a time. Leaving it on your hair overnight or using it more frequently may result in irritation.
Premade solutions, such as OTC shampoos, may have different guidelines. Always follow the instructions on the product label.
Potential side effects and risks
Diluted neem oil is generally considered safe to use topically. People who have sensitive skin may be more likely to experience itchiness or other irritation.
Diluting pure neem oil — or using a diluted premade solution — is key to minimizing irritation. Performing a patch test can also help you assess your risk for irritation.
Products to consider
Whether you want to dilute pure neem oil or use a premade neem-based hair product is up to you.
Popular oils and oil-based products include:
- Oleavine Health Professional All Natural Neem Oil
- Foxbrim Naturals Neem
- Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo with Silk Protein & Neem Oil
- TheraNeem Naturals Conditioner
Research on neem oil is limited, especially in regard to overall hair and scalp health.
The research we do have is primarily on topical application, so it’s unclear how effective supplements are for cosmetic use.
It’s also important to note that supplements aren’t regulated for product safety by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You should only buy supplements from manufacturers you trust.
Talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider before adding neem supplements to your routine. They can help you assess your individual risk for side effects and interactions.
They may also be able to recommend a reputable supplement or suggest a more reliable therapy.
If you do decide to use neem supplements, stick to products marketed as “neem” or “neem leaf.”
There are several active ingredients in neem oil, and more research is needed to determine which ingredient corresponds with each benefit. It’s unclear whether isolated active ingredients are as effective as neem oil in its entirety.
Dosages range with manufacturers. The average supplement dose given by manufacturers is around 1,300 milligrams (mg) per day. This is typically split between two doses.
Potential side effects and risks
Supplements aren’t suitable for children under the age of 12 or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Some people experience cramping or nausea after taking neem supplements. You can minimize your risk for these side effects by taking your recommended dose with food and water.
You shouldn’t ingest neem or take other supplements without medical supervision. Neem may interact with certain medications or underlying conditions.
In some cases, ingestion can cause toxicity. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience vomiting, difficulty breathing, or other severe symptoms.
Products to consider
Talk to a healthcare provider before adding a neem supplement to your routine. They can answer any questions you have and advise you on your individual risks.
Some popular supplements include:
More research is needed to truly determine how neem oil affects overall scalp and hair health.
While it may be safe to try as a general booster, you should speak with a doctor or other healthcare provider before using neem to treat chronic inflammation, head lice, or any other underlying condition.
They may recommend it alongside more established OTC and prescription treatments.
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