Since 2000 B.C., the Ayuverda and Unami systems of medicine have respected the neem tree as a panacea for a wide variety of ailments. In India, neem is referred to as sarva roga nivarini, meaning "the cure of all ailments." Every part of the tree is used for treatments, which is not common among medicinal plants. While the neem tree originated in India, it is now grown in over 50 countries worldwide, spreading its healing powers across the globe.
Neem oil is one of the many products from the neem tree. It is reported to have antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties and has been used to treat ailments, from head to toe. When applied to the hair and scalp, neem oil is believed to act as a natural dandruff buster by eliminating the bacteria at the source of the flakes. As with other supplements that support scalp health, many speculate that neem oil can benefit hair growth as well.
Neem Oil for Hair
Type of ingredient: Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties.
Main benefits: Soothes scalp inflammation, treats dandruff, smoothes frizz.
Who should use it: In general, anyone with dandruff or scalp itchiness would benefit from neem oil. Neem oil is not recommended for particularly thin hair, as it can weigh hair down.
How often can you use it: It’s safe to use daily but must be diluted before applying to the hair and scalp.
Works well with: Carrier oils, such as jojoba or olive oil, to reduce potential irritation.
Don’t use with: Other potential irritants, such as Rogaine or other hair growth treatments.
Benefits of Neem Oil for Hair
Neem oil has been used in traditional medicine in India for over a millennia. It has been used to treat ailments such as diabetes, ulcers, and even smallpox. Neem oil contains nimbidin, which research has shown can reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties of neem oil can help to treat many scalp issues, including dandruff, inflammation, and itchiness.
In addition to nimbidin, neem oil also contains fatty acids, vitamin E, triglycerides, antioxidants, and calcium, all of which contribute to a healthy scalp environment. The fatty acid content of neem oil can provide benefits to your hair as well. "Neem oil is high in fatty acids, such as linoleic, oleic, and palmitic acids, which help lock in moisture to hair," Friese explains.
- Antimicrobial dandruff treatment: Both experts agree that neem oil contains antifungal properties. Dandruff is often caused by fungus on the scalp, and neem oil can provide a natural solution to this problem. Markowitz shares that those with dandruff, dry scalp, and frizzy hair will benefit the most from its use.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties: Neem is rich in antioxidants, which, in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, makes it great for scalp health. Friese says "Because it contains vitamin E and other antioxidants, neem can help skin cells regenerate."
- Supports the growth of healthy hair follicles: Markowitz explains that because of its antioxidant properties, neem oil supports the growth of healthy hair follicles. Hair growth starts with a healthy scalp, so in treating the scalp you are also treating the hair.
- Prevents hair loss: Hair loss has a number of causes, one of which is hair breakage. Hair breakage can be prevented by moisturizing and strengthening the hair, both of which neem oil can do. "Neem oil is high in fatty acids, such as linoleic, oleic, and palmitic acids to help lock in moisture to hair," Markowitz explains. She adds that as an ingredient in many skin and hair products, regular application of neem oil can promote healthier, thicker, and rich hair growth, as well as help prevent hair loss.
- Controls scalp itchiness: Neem oil can control itchiness of the scalp. According to Markowitz, it can "soothe a dry, itchy scalp due to its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties." Scalp itchiness can be a side effect of dandruff, which neem oil also targets.
- Smoothes frizz: The fatty acids in neem oil locks in moisture to the hair follicle. Markowitz shares that this can smoothe frizz as well.
- Treats head lice: Neem oil is can be used as a natural treatment for head lice. Research has found that neem oil shampoos targeted for head lice removal were effective at eradicating cases of lice. Markowitz also notes neem oil's ability to treat lice as one of its benefits.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that neem oil is safe for all hair types, but needs to be diluted before applying it to the hair or scalp. Friese recommends diluting pure neem oil with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, olive, or coconut oils. Friese also cautions against using large amounts of oil in fine hair, as less coarse hair may be weighed down more easily.
Neem oil has the potential to irritate sensitive skin, so those with conditions like eczema should avoid use. As always, a doctor should be consulted before beginning use of a new product/supplement that can cause irritation. Markowitz suggests testing it on a small area, such as your inner forearm, to see if you have an adverse reaction to it before applying it to your scalp and hair. "Since neem oil aids in the grow of healthy hair and can potentially irritate a sensitive scalp, I would avoid combining it with other potential irritants such as Rogaine or other hair growth treatments," Markowitz cautions.
How to Use Neem Oil for Hair
Neem oil is taken orally for other types of treatments, but both experts agree that it should be used topically to treat scalp and hair concerns. Currently, most shampoos and conditioners that contain neem oil are for treating lice. These products may contain neem oil at a concentration that is irritating when used on a regular basis. There are other ways of incorporating neem oil into your existing haircare routine. Friese shares that "you can apply diluted neem oil once per day for one to two hours at a time. But leaving it on your scalp longer or using it more frequently may result in irritation."
- Add neem oil to your shampoo: You can add neem oil to your favorite shampoo to take advantage of its benefits. Friese recommends mixing a couple of drops of neem oil with a quarter-sized dollop of your usual shampoo. The shampoo should be massaged into the scalp and pulled through the ends of the hair.
- Deep-condition with a mask: Similar to the shampoo treatment, Markowitz added neem oil to a hair mask for additional moisturizing and hair growth benefits. Make sure to shampoo after this treatment, as neem oil can be irritating if left on the skin.
- Use as a scalp massage oil: Markowitz recommends applying neem oil directly to the scalp, then "massaging it in gently and letting it sit on the scalp for about 30 minutes before rinsing off." Make sure to dilute it with carrier oil before application. Friese agrees with this method of using neem oil and provided the following recipe for a bespoke scalp oil:
- 1 ounce of carrier oil (jojoba, olive, or coconut oils)
- 12 drops of neem oil
- Combine 1 ounce of carrier oil for every 12 drops of neem oil
- Apply directly to the scalp and massage using your finger pads
- Pull the oil through your strands from roots to ends
- Leave on for 30 minutes to an hour
- Rinse and wash with your usual shampoo