Over the years — between our personal experience and the feedback we get from customers—we know our neem creams really help our skin. With consistent use, neem visibly reduces the inevitable changes we see as we get older and it reduces sun damage. We’ve always assumed that neem is such an outstanding skincare product because of its proven antioxidant, immune-boosting, and liver-protecting properties.
But now science has gotten directly involved, and we don’t have to assume any longer. A new study gives us the first data documenting the multiple anti-aging benefits of neem leaf extracts applied to the skin. This study looked at preventing the accelerated aging and damage caused by sun exposure, and the benefits were so striking that these scientists concluded: “…neem leaf extract is a promising candidate for topical (anti-aging) therapy products.” *
Now let’s see what these results involved
Published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, the investigators explain that they wanted to test the anti-aging benefits of neem because it has such high levels of the right kind of compounds—bioactive flavonoids with high antioxidant activity. They looked at the ability of neem leaf extract (NLE) to prevent a range of skin changes caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Researchers already had learned that normal skin aging and sun-damaged skin involve basically the same types of changes to the skin’s appearance and the underlying structure, fibers and biochemical signaling. It’s just that the sun really speeds this up.
What is so valuable about this study is that it didn’t just look at the skin’s external appearance. These investigators looked at the underlying elements responsible for its appearance.
So they did two kinds of tests. They got certain critical information from human fibroblast cells removed from the skin of healthy young men, grown in a culture dish, and then given a single sun lamp exposure. And they got loads of necessary information from studying hairless mice for 5 weeks—mice bred specifically to be a helpful stand-in for studying human skin in a variety of situations. These hairless mice were divided into 5 groups, and 4 of them were exposed to sun lamp doses. The unexposed group had no sun and no treatment—just life as usual. Of the others, one group was treated just with the product neem was mixed into, another with a mild skin rejuvenating agent, and the 2 neem groups each got a different dose of neem applied to their skin.
We’re going to go into more detail than we usually do about the procedure and the results because so many people are concerned about skin.
Along with its appearance, our skin is a very an important organ. It’s our first interface with our environment, our basic protection from the atmosphere around us. As our skin ages, it gradually loses more and more of its protective abilities, so a product that protects and rejuvenates—and does this without negative side effects—is extremely important, and hopefully interesting as well.
More effective than expected
Fibroblasts reside in the lower layer of the skin and produce the collagen fibers that support the skin, keeping it firm and the face filled out. Aging and sun exposure both make fibroblasts lazy and inefficient, and also wreck the balance between new collagen being made and old collagen being eliminated.
In this study, the sun-exposed cell cultures without NLE showed the muted biochemical signals that weaken collagen production as expected. They also showed amplified biochemical signals to ramp up collagen destruction.
But the cell cultures with NLE added stayed right on course, maintaining their balance between producing new collagen and eliminating the old. *
In the mouse study, the groups without NLE reiterated the various ways in which unprotected sun exposure damages the skin’s appearance, architecture, and function. But with NLE, even though the neem extract didn’t block the sun exposure, it prevented the damage and the mice maintained normal healthy skin. And the lower neem dose actually did the best of all. It prevented skin wrinkling, maintained sufficient water retention (hydration) and elasticity (resilience), and the underlying biochemical signals that regulate all of this remained at healthy levels—not too little, not too much. *
And maintaining good hydration documents additional benefits. When skin starts losing too much water, that’s a clear sign that the outermost layer of the skin is no longer functioning well as a protective barrier to keep in water and keep out germs, irritants, and allergens. That’s exactly what happened for all the sun-exposed hairless mice who weren’t neem-protected. But the mice benefiting from NLE maintained their hydration—and thus their healthy protective skin barrier. *
What this tells us
In mouse skin, neem leaf clearly provides dramatic benefit in countering or minimizing the forces that cause skin—both mouse and human —to look older and function less protectively. Two facts make it extremely likely that neem offers the same protection in human skin. One is the human fibroblast study, which says that the right underlying biochemical processes are being affected in the right ways in human skin.
The other is that studying things in mouse skin first gives us critical information. If something doesn’t work for mice, it won’t work with people. If it does work for mouse skin, then scientists go ahead and do a trial with people. Although this hasn’t been done yet, the dramatic benefit for mice fits very nicely with what we know about neem’s high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. And it also jibes with our own personal experiences using neem. It’s also very likely to conclude that since neem can protect against aging changes, it should also be able to restore better function and appearance to skin—protective and also rejuvenating. *
What we can’t say for sure yet is whether we need to use neem topically for these protective and rejuvenating effects—putting it directly where it’s needed—or whether taking it orally is just as helpful. That has to be tested in a clinical trial. If the results shown with neem leaf extract are eventually extended to internal use, then the anti-aging impact of oral neem leaf extract should help to maintain healthy collagen in more than just the skin. Collagen is the main structural protein in muscles, tendons, and the intestines. *
These scientists believe that these benefits to skin are partly due to rutin, one of the many critical compounds in neem leaf. Rutin is also found in other foods, like buckwheat and asparagus. It’s been the subject of more than 4,000 clinical studies, used both internally and externally. But other antioxidant compounds—yet to be identified—are thought to be important as well.
Where do we go from here? Our own informal study!
We’ve always focused on the percentage of neem oil in our skincare products because it was considered the most effective ingredient. Our lotion, cream, shampoo, and conditioner all contain neem leaf extract as their first ingredient. However it’s made with water, not the 50% pure-grain alcohol used with the neem in this study. We have never included an alcohol-based extract in a skincare product because it’s both drying and expensive.
Thanks to the incredibly generous scientists who performed this test, we are now selling the exact formulation of cream they used. Check it out at https://neemtreefarms.com/shop/clinically-proven-neem-leaf-cream/.*
Originally published April 15, 2017