Whenever I read any resource about the neem plant, it's always referred to as the “village pharmacy.” For over 4,500 years, the entire tree has been used by more than a few South Asian civilizations as a medicinal, agricultural, and beauty aid.
Researchers are jumping all over each other trying to find another use for the plant to add to the roster, because with neem you can folk-treat so many illnesses and ailments, one day this might become a regular pharmaceutical component. Neem is being researched for its capacity to prevent pregnancy, to manage diabetes, to kill parasites, to prevent e. coli in cows, and much more. It's so all-encompassing that I had to stop following the medical research yellow brick road and get back on the beauty beat.
In the context of beauty, neem nails three crucial vanity goals: clear skin, healthy hair, and shiny white teeth. That’s a whole lot from just one plant! I have to admit, it smells horrid—like garlic and peanut butter, but not in a good way—which is probably why it’s not as revered here in the West like it is in Eastern cultures.
Nubian Heritage is always stepping it up a notch, and I'm always digging what they put out. I tried their Indian Hemp and Tamanu Co-Wash and the Deep Treatment Masque. The Co-Wash is pretty good, if a bit thick. It smells nice, is a large size for the price, and is full of healing oils and humectants. Indian Hemp and Tamanu Deep Treatment Masque is a completely different sitch. I used Theraneem Naturals Gentle Therape Shampoo before slathering on just a measly quarter-sized dollop on my ends. I was able to work that tiny amount through the entire lengths of both my hair and my faux hair. My strands were powerfully soft the next day. Theraneem foams up pretty well for a natural shampoo and I think it's well-suited to fight scalp sensitivity and issues.
Dr.Hauschka Revitalizing Hair and Scalp Tonic has been around for a while and I've been missing out. It’s a witch hazel and alcohol-based liquid that acts as a toner for the scalp. I like it because it absorbs and evaporates oil, making it perfect for second-day touch-ups, since it also feels so refreshing. I just use a few drops daily and, after a few weeks, there’s barely a dent made in this $30 bottle. I’d say it would last six months or more!
The body is also a great place to employ neem’s anti-purulent, antibacterial, and insect-repelling properties. Whether you use Nubian Heritage’s incredibly affordable and divinely fragranced Indian Hemp and Vetiver Bath, Body, and Massage Oil to zing you into the morning or Shiffa’s critically acclaimed Healing Balm to treat cuts, zits, and bug bites, you can get the benefits of neem wherever they are needed at the moment.
Nighttime is when mosquitoes are at their most active, so using an affordable soap like Theraneem Oatmeal and Lavender Cleansing Bar gets you protection from those dingdong-ass bugs while putting you to sleep with calming lavender. It's so foamy and so yum, I have to fight myself off from using it in the morning, since I don’t need any help pressing the snooze button.
You can smell all the literal flowers and herbs that go into Dr.Hauschka's Neem Nail and Cuticle Oil, which I am all about. Full disclosure: this stuff is not cheap, even compared to other offerings from the brand. If it didn’t pump out a frankly wasteful amount per use I would be so down, but the component wastes this precious oil, as neem can be a godsend to those with fungal nail issues. As for the performance, it’s as good as the Dermelect peptide version I have shouted out before, and I would imagine if you use their pen dispenser frugally, it could be a much more copacetic situation for your wallet and your cuticles.
The last but nearly most important place to use neem's folk magic is on the face! It's a widely used acne treatment, and it's horrid smell is that much more pronounced when on your face.
Luckily, CosMedix Purity Solution Deep Cleansing Oil doesn't reek like peanut sauce and is a really nice feeling cleansing oil. I truly like it, but it's a small bottle for the price, so follow your heart. It does have fancy oils like argan, moringa, and kukui oil as well as fellow Indian spice superstar turmeric, which explains the $35 price tag a bit better. It takes off makeup and adds beneficial extracts to help treat skin while you oil cleanse, but rinses off with water due to emulsifiers.
Straight neem oil is easy to find here in the US. I used Theraneem's to spike my DIY night oil, a simple formula of hemp seed oil with essential oils of tea tree, clove, thyme, frankincense and myrrh (go light on the first three—they need to be diluted safely). Those lovely smells all are acne butt-kicking and cover up the neem nastiness perfectly. This formula is a keeper!
I have been trying to incorporate neem into my routine for a minute, and now it looks like the beginning of a long-term relationship! It's nice to finally experience it first-hand, and I can't wait until research catches up and it lives up to it's pharmaceutical potential.
Photos: Maria Penaloza