Need a cream that relieves bug bites? Or some hair care that creates dandruff-free locks? If you’re browsing the aisles of a health foods store, you might reach for a product that contains something called neem.

But what exactly is neem… and should you use it? Here’s the DL.

Let’s start with the basics: Neem’s a tree that’s native to India.

It’s been used in traditional Eastern medicine for centuries thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Practitioners can use the whole neem plant (including its roots, bark, leaves, flowers, and seeds) so it’s earned the nickname “the village pharmacy.”

But is it legit? It turns out, there’s still a lot we don’t know about how neem can impact your health.

Neem is a popular natural alternative to traditional products. It’s used to keep bugs at bay, soothe irritated scalps, and more. Here’s what the science says about whether it really works.

Probably helps repel insects

From repelling bugs to keeping cats ‘n dogs parasite-free, neem is a popular part of the pest control world.

According to a 2015 study, solutions containing 20 percent neem can be effective in banishing blood-thirsty mosquitoes and other irritating insects. It’s as simple as applying neem oil directly to your skin or lighting a neem-containing candle near you.

Neem can also be found in some animal shampoos to help Fido and Fluffy stay tick- and flea-free.

Could help you manage certain diseases

The neem plant is filled with plenty of active compounds that give it its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial abilities.

Animal studies suggest that thanks to these properties, neem may help prevent or manage certain diseases.

  • Diabetes. Animal studies suggest that meds containing neem extract might help revive insulin-producing cells to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Liver and kidney health. Neem may promote liver and kidney health by relieving oxidative stress caused by inflammation or certain medications. In a 2014 rat study, neem extract helped ease liver damage caused by acetaminophen, while a 2000 rat study found that neem may heal kidney damage from chemo meds.
  • Heart disease. Anecdotal claims suggest that the neem leaf may help prevent heart disease, but research is lacking.

Despite these promising results, there aren’t any human studies yet to show if this can really help. It’s also important to remember that you should never replace prescribed medications with neem without talking with your doctor.

May promote healthy hair

Certain compounds found in neem might help promote healthy scalp and hair by killing critters (like pesky lice) or fighting flakes.

Azadirachtin is an active compound in neem that pounces on parasites that irritate your skin and hair, including lice and nits. It attacks these pests at the cellular level, messing with their ability to grow and reproduce.

A small 2012 study of 12 children showed using neem-based shampoo to be an effective treatment for lice. Despite the study’s small test group, the results were impressive. Every participant was able to achieve a lice-free scale without any side effects.

Another compound in neem, called nimbidin, has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that might help to reduce fungal buildup on your scalp. This makes neem a popular option for soothing scalp irritation and reducing dandruff.

Could improve oral health

While more research is still needed, some studies suggest that neem may work wonders for what’s going on inside your mouth. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiseptic abilities, neem might be able to benefit your oral health. It might ease pain, treat certain oral conditions (like gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay), and keep your pearly whites strong and sparkly.

In one 2011 study, 45 participants were divided into three groups and given either a neem mouthwash, a prescription mouthwash, or a placebo. Results showed that the neem mouthwash was just as effective as the prescription option at fighting plaque, gingivitis, and gum bleeding. A more recent study found similar results, once again showing neem to be an equal alternative to medicated mouthwash.

Test tube studies also support neem’s plaque-fighting superpowers. They suggest that neem oil may be able to reduce bacteria build-up on your teeth, which in turn helps prevent plaque from forming.

Neem comes in many forms, including capsules, oils, powders, creams, and tinctures.

There’s no standard dosage when it comes to neem, and different products will come with different recommendations on how to use them and how much to use. Neem is generally considered safe, but it’s still not clear just how effective it may be. Read the label of your chosen product and carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions to have the best chance of seeing results.

Talk with your doc if you’re new to neem, have any questions, or are taking any medications. They can put you on the path to being a neem pro in no time (or tell you to steer clear if neem’s not right for you)!

Neem is generally considered safe to use, but there are some exceptions — especially if you’re planning to take neem orally.

When it comes to topical options, it’s important to dilute neem with other ingredients before applying it to your skin. Direct application can lead to irritation or allergic reaction. Always follow your topical’s instructions carefully and do a patch test on a small area of skin before using it on a large area.

We don’t know a lot about the effects of using neem long-term, so it’s important to weigh your options when you’re considering adding an oral neem product to your diet.

Don’t take neem supplements if you’re:

Folks with autoimmune disorders or who are taking diabetes meds should talk with their doc before adding neem to their routine.

You can generally find neem-based products at your local health or beauty store. It comes in a variety of forms including oils, powders, creams, tinctures, and oral supplements. It’s also used as an ingredient in several hair and skin care products.

Do your homework when looking for a quality product, and consider factors like:

  • Is the manufacturer reputable?
  • What other ingredients are in this product?
  • What do others who have used the product have to say?
  • What are you using neem for?

Consult your doctor before using any neem product. They can provide insight and advice on usage and safety so you can understand the best option for you.

Neem is a medicinal plant that has many potential benefits. It’s commonly used to treat dandruff, repel pests, and prevent gingivitis.

While neem is usually considered safe, it’s best to proceed with caution before using neem-based products. There’s still a lot we don’t know about neem, and more research is needed on its safety and benefits.