Neem oil is a natural oil derived from the seeds of the Neem tree. It has been used for centuries in India to treat a variety of skin conditions In studies, neem oil was found to anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and anti-histamine properties which may improve itching and redness.
Neem seed oil had no activity against Malassezia. However, Neem leaf extract was found to inhibit Malassezia in concentrations as low as 25% and is a promising treatment for seborrheic dermatitis.
Let’s take a deep dive:
What is Neem oil?
Neem oil is a natural plant-based oil derived from the seed kernels of the Neem tree. Neem oil has been used for centuries in medicine because of its many benefits.
Despite its strong smell, this oil is often used in beauty products and has a variety of therapeutic uses. Neem oil is anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral. It is also a great natural moisturizer. It can even be applied to the scalp to treat problems like dandruff, hair loss, and more.
Neem leaf extract is derived from the leaves of the Neem tree. Even though both oils are from the same tree, there are significant differences in their ability to treat seborrheic dermatitis.
Is Neem oil antifungal?
A 2016 lab study showed Neem oil has strong antifungal activity against Aspergillus species and Trichoderma fungi. Another lab study reported Neem oil was active against dermatophyte fungi.
A 2010 study looked at Neem leaf extract and found that it inhibited Malassezia furfur in concentrations as little as 25% (although 100% neem leaf extract worked the best).
Interestingly, in a study looking at whether Neem oil can treat fungal external ear infections in dogs, even though there was clinical improvement (the ears looked healthier), Malassezia was still present on cultures. They concluded Neem oil was not a good treatment for Malassezia.
Another study found that Neem seed oil had weak or no activity against Malassezia or Candida strains.
Benefits of Neem oil
Neem oil is most popularly known as a powerful natural pesticide that can be used to control a variety of pests. When applied topically, it also has many benefits for our skin.
Due to its antiseptic properties, Neem oil can help to fight against bacterial infections. A 2013 study found that Neem oil was active against Acne microbes and can be used to treat acne.
The oil also contains antioxidants which support healthy hair follicles and skin health. A 2017 mouse study suggested that Neem leaf extract could treat aging symptoms like thinning skin, dryness and wrinkles.
Neem oil is anti-inflammatory. It helps prevent skin inflammation and cell damage. It also helps regenerate damaged skin cells. In fact, Neem oil is commonly used in arthritic joint massage to reduce pain.
Head lice can also be treated with Neem oil. In fact, the oil repels lice, and is also used as a preventive treatment.
How does Neem oil help seborrheic dermatitis?
It’s clear from the evidence that Neem seed oil has no activity against Malassezia furfur. The oil may reduce itching as it has natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties but I’ve found the itch improves significantly when we reduce our skin’s fungal load and that is best done with anti-fungal creams or other essential oils with antifungal activity.
Neem leaf extract on the other hand, has promise. It has been shown to inhibit Malassezia in concentrations as low as 25% and may also improve thinning skin and wrinkles. A win-win for older seborrheic dermatitis sufferers like me!
Just be careful when you buy Neem oil. Unless it specifically says on the bottle, Neem oil is derived from Neem seeds. Neem leaf extract comes in an oil form for supplementation or as an active ingredient in skin creams.
Side effects of Neem oil
Neem oil may cause skin irritation or allergy. When using Neem oil topically, it’s important to perform a patch test and dilute the oil. This will help minimize any irritation that may occur.
How do I use Neem oil for seborrheic dermatitis?
Use Neem leaf extract that has been cold-pressed and is organic. Instead of buying creams that contain Neem leaf extract combined with other ingredients that may not be suitable for SD, buy the pure leaf extract in oil form.
To start, don’t apply Neem leaf extract directly to your skin. Instead, mix it with a carrier oil like squalane oil or jojoba oil (Read about safe carrier oils for seborrheic dermatitis). Use a 1:4 ratio to begin with and start by applying the oil to SD lesions once a day.
If you find that your skin is tolerating Neem leaf oil, increase the concentration to 1:2 and start applying it twice a day.
You can use the same method for your scalp. Neem oil can be massaged into the scalp as a pre-shampoo treatment. Leave on for 30 minutes before rinsing it out.
Further reading: The 8 best scalp oils for seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff
To wrap up
Neem seed oil should not be used as a treatment for seborrheic dermatitis but Neem leaf extract has a lot of promise. More research is needed to determine the efficacy of Neem leaf extract for this condition, but the preliminary evidence suggests that it may be effective. I definitely think it’s worth a try.