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The Science of Neem Oil in Skin Care Products

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 7 min

Neem oil has become an increasingly popular natural oil in skin care. Derived from the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), this ancient Ayurvedic ingredient contains a wealth of active compounds that provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial benefits.

Keep reading to learn all about neem oil in skin care - what makes it so effective, how to use it, and whether it’s right for your skin type. If you haven't found your Baumann Skin Type yet, you can take the quiz for free by clicking the button below!

what is neem oil

What is neem oil?

Neem oil comes from the seeds and fruits of the neem tree, native to India and Southeast Asia. Every part of the neem tree has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, from leaves to roots. In skin care, it is just the pressed oils from the seeds and fruits that are used. It is useful for most skin types (who aren't extremely prone to acne) and is only increasing in popularity. Here are some of my favorite skin care products with neem oil:

What is neem oil made of?

Neem oil is cold-pressed from neem seeds, and retains the tree’s potent active compounds. These include: (3)

oxidized tetranortriterpenoids

  • Azadirachtin A - The most abundant and bioactive component
  • Azadirachtin B
  • Azadirachtin D
  • Azadirachtin H
  • Azadirachtin I
  • Azadirachtanin
  • Azadiriadione
  • Azadirachtolide
  • Nimbin
  • Nimbolin A
  • Nimbandiol
  • Nimocinol
  • Nimbinene
  • Nimbocinone
  • Nimbocinolide
  • Nimocin
  • Nimbolide
  • Salannin

Other Active Compounds

  • Fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids
  • Sulfurous compounds
  • Carbohydrates like polysaccharides
  • Polyphenols including flavonoids, rutin, and quercetin
  • Carotenoids
  • Catechin
  • Ferulic acid
  • β-sitosterol
  • Steroids
  • Coumarin
  • Tannins
  • Ellagic acid
  • Lupeol
  • Saponins
  • Alkaloids
  • Resins
  • Gums
  • Margisine
  • Cyclic trisulfide
  • Ketones

This unique chemical profile gives neem oil various beneficial skin effects. Additionally, this ingredient is considered safe in skin care.

is neem oil safe

Is neem oil safe?

When used topically and appropriately, neem oil is generally very safe. The Environmental Working Group, for example, has graded neem oil as a “1” in safety, meaning very safe. However, there are a few precautions to keep in mind:

  • Test for allergic reactions before applying neem oil to the face or body. Patch testing on the inner arm can detect potential irritation or contact dermatitis.
  • Avoid getting pure neem oil in the eyes, as it can cause redness and swelling. Rinse immediately with water if this occurs.
  • Do not ingest neem oil, as the compounds that benefit skin can be toxic if swallowed. (12)
  • Monitor for any irritation, rashes, or skin reactions, discontinuing use if these develop.
  • Pregnant women should not use neem oil without medical approval, as it increases various antimicrobial processes in the body, which can be bad for pregnancies. (10,11)
  • While rare, there are some reports of neem oil causing headaches or nausea when applied topically. Discontinue use if this occurs.
  • Neem oil has demonstrated some spermicidal properties, meaning it can act as a weak prophylactic. (9)

Consult a dermatologist or doctor before trying neem oil if you have very sensitive skin, rosacea, or a medical condition. When used appropriately under guidance, neem oil is very beneficial for skin health for most people.

Benefits of neem oil in skin care

With regular use, neem oil can help address common skin issues including acne, inflammation, irritation, dryness and premature aging. The broad range of active compounds makes neem oil a versatile ingredient in skin care products, but more studies on its effects in skin care are needed. That being said, some of the benefits of neem oil that I am aware of include:

Antimicrobial activity

The azadirachtins and other active compounds in neem oil demonstrate antimicrobial effects against bacteria, viruses and fungi that infect or irritate skin. (5) Studies show neem is especially effective against:

  • Propionibacterium acnes - the acne-causing bacteria
  • Staphylococcus aureus - a common source of skin infections
  • Candida albicans - the fungus that causes yeast infections and thrush
  • Herpes simplex virus - the virus behind cold sores

Applying neem oil can help prevent breakouts, skin infections, athlete’s foot and more by inhibiting microbial growth.

neem oil for inflammation

Soothes inflammation

The triterpenoids in neem have an anti-inflammatory effect when applied topically. Additionally, neem provides soothing linoleic acid to the skin. By soothing inflammation, neem calms redness, swelling and irritation associated with inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. (6)

Fights free radicals

Neem contains high levels of antioxidant compounds like catechin, ferulic acid, quercetin and more. These neutralize free radicals that would otherwise damage skin cells, accelerating visible aging. Using neem oil helps defend the skin against oxidative stress. (4)

Moisturizes dry skin

In addition to its medicinal effects, neem oil is also an effective moisturizer. The fatty acids and beta-sitosterol in neem help smooth and hydrate dry, flaky skin while restoring suppleness and a youthful glow. Beta-sitosterol is a lot like cholesterol, and similarly aids in maintaining the skin barrier as a part of the essential lipid matrix of the skin. A healthy skin barrier loses less moisture to transepidermal water loss. (8)

Promotes healing

Multiple studies attest to neem’s wound healing abilities. The oil stimulates collagen production, while the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity protects wounds and promotes faster healing.(7)

which skin types can use neem oil

Is neem oil right for your skin type?

To find out if neem oil suits your unique skin needs, check your Baumann Skin Type. My proven system classifies skin into one of 16 types based on oiliness, dryness, sensitivity, aging, and pigmentation concerns.

Here’s how neem oil matches up with each trait:

Aging skin: Neem oil helps eliminate free radicals that can cause wrinkles on the skin. This ingredient also has proposed collagen stimulating effects.

Dry Skin: The moisturizing fatty acids helps hydrating dry skin, and keeps the skin barrier healthy. It is a rich and moisturizing ingredient. As long as your skin is not too dry, the oleic acid in neem oil should not irritate your skin.

Sensitive Skin: Neem oil is generally well-tolerated, but acne breakouts are possible because neem contains comedogenic palmitic acid. If you are soothing inflammation, this is a good choice. If you are working to prevent clogged pores, not so much. That being said, neem contains potent antimicrobial compounds that can eliminate acne causing bacteria on the face. 

Pigmented Skin: Neither particularly good nor bad. A safe ingredient to use in your routine, but not a particularly strong skin lightener.

Based on this breakdown, neem oil is an ideal ingredient for those with dry, somewhat acne prone, aging, and inflammation sensitive skin. People with very acne prone or extremely dry skin should speak to a dermatologist before using.

Figure out your Baumann Skin Type to determine if neem is right for your skin concerns.

Closing thoughts

With antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, neem oil is an Ayurvedic powerhouse for multiple skin care concerns. It’s especially effective for treating acne, soothing conditions like eczema and rosacea, and preventing infections and irritation. Plus, neem oil hydrates and protects skin from aging free radical damage.

Take the Baumann Skin Type quiz for free today to see if neem oil is right for your skin care routine!

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Best References and Scientific Publications on Neem oil in skin care:

  1. Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch.  Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Baby, A. R., Freire, T. B., Marques, G. D. A., Rijo, P., Lima, F. V., Carvalho, J. C. M. D., ... & Morocho-Jácome, A. L. (2022). Azadirachta indica (Neem) as a potential natural active for dermocosmetic and topical products: a narrative review. Cosmetics, 9(3), 58.
  4. Manca, M. L., Manconi, M., Meloni, M. C., Marongiu, F., Allaw, M., Usach, I., ... & Ghavam, M. (2021). Nanotechnology for natural medicine: Formulation of neem oil loaded phospholipid vesicles modified with argan oil as a strategy to protect the skin from oxidative stress and promote wound healing. Antioxidants, 10(5), 670.
  5. Vijayan, V., Aafreen, S., Sakthivel, S., & Reddy, K. R. (2013). Formulation and characterization of solid lipid nanoparticles loaded Neem oil for topical treatment of acne. Journal of Acute Disease, 2(4), 282-286.
  6. Naik, M. R., Bhattacharya, A., Behera, R., Agrawal, D., Dehury, S., & Kumar, S. (2014). Study of anti-inflammatory effect of neem seed oil (Azadirachta indica) on infected albino rats. Journal of Health Research and Reviews, 1(3), 66.
  7. Banerjee, K., Chatterjee, M., Sandur, R., Nachimuthu, R., Madhyastha, H., & Thiagarajan, P. (2021). Azadirachta indica A. Juss (Neem) oil topical formulation with liquid crystals ensconcing depot water for anti-inflammatory, wound healing and anti-methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus activities. Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology, 64, 102563.
  8. Manca, M. L., Manconi, M., Meloni, M. C., Marongiu, F., Allaw, M., Usach, I., ... & Ghavam, M. (2021). Nanotechnology for natural medicine: Formulation of neem oil loaded phospholipid vesicles modified with argan oil as a strategy to protect the skin from oxidative stress and promote wound healing. Antioxidants, 10(5), 670.
  9. Riar, S. S., Devakumar, C., Ilavazhagan, G., Bardhan, J., Kain, A. K., Thomas, P., ... & Singh, B. (1990). Volatile fraction of neem oil as a spermicide. Contraception, 42(4), 479-487.
  10. Juneja, S. C., Pfeifer, T., Williams, R. S., & Chegini, N. (1994). Neem oil inhibits two-cell embryo development and trophectoderm attachment and proliferation in vitro. Journal of assisted reproduction and genetics, 11, 419-427.
  11. Upadhyay, S. N., Kaushic, C., & Talwar, G. P. (1990). Antifertility effects of neem (Azadirachta indica) oil by single intrauterine administration: a novel method for contraception. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 242(1305), 175-179.
  12. Gandhi, M., Lal, R., Sankaranarayanan, A., Banerjee, C. K., & Sharma, P. L. (1988). Acute toxicity study of the oil from Azadirachta indica seed (neem oil). Journal of ethnopharmacology, 23(1), 39-51.