The Tree of Life
Often referred to as “The Divine Tree” or “the heal-all” in India, the neem tree, including its leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, roots, and bark, has been used for several thousands of years to treat inflammation, infection, fever, skin diseases, and dental disorders. It has been used extensively in Ayurveda, Unani healing, and homeopathic medicine. Neem is also a safe, naturally occurring pesticide, which has made the tree an integral part of rural life in India, says Rahul Koul, co-CEO of SUNDÃRI, an Ayurvedic skincare line co-founded by model Christy Turlington. “The tree repels
insects, and its shade became a natural meeting place for people,” says Koul. “Offering cool shade from the hot sun, the tree offers sweet fruit for children. For centuries, Indians have planted this tree in the vicinity of their homes. The tree provides seeds, leaves, and bark, which can be converted into fertilizer and pest-control material.”
In addition to keeping the bugs away and providing shade and fruit, Indian women discovered the tree’s leaves work wonders on the skin, offering anti-aging and soothing benefits, and have been using its healing properties for centuries as part of an herbal beauty tradition. It’s no wonder SUNDÃRI, which means “a beautiful woman” in Sanskrit, uses neem in so many of its products and treatments.
When it comes to skincare, calling neem “the heal-all” isn’t an exaggeration. Increasingly, modern medicine and spas are tapping into the tree’s powerful, traditional therapeutic effects. “The benefits of neem have been well studied,” says Koul. “Modern science has identified hundreds of active compounds, from various parts of the plant with pesticidal, fungicidal, bactericidal, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and other properties.”
At the Spa at Bovey Castle in Dartmoor National Park (Devon, England), the flagship UK SUNDÃRI spa offers the SUNDÃRI Healing Facial ($125, 75 minutes), which uses neem to soothe and hydrate sensitive or irritated skin. The Spa at the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius (Beau Champ, Mauritius) uses SUNDÃRI products in its Ayurvedic therapies, including the Healing Body Ritual ($330, 2 hours). The treatment, created around neem, begins with a purifying, clean
sing footbath and a full-body massage, followed by a full-body exfoliation and a lotion application. “A simple routine of bathing in neem leaves skin supple and healthy,” says spa manager Morgan Chernow. “Face packs with neem leaf powder offer emollient and anti-aging action. The antiseptic properties of neem leaf extract help in controlling acne.”
The Ayurvedic skincare line PRATIMA also uses neem to treat many conditions, including blemishes, hypersensitivity, rosacea, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, flaky scalp conditions, and topical fungal infections, says spa and skincare director Rosemarie Sepulveda. “Neem is used to treat a wide variety of ailments and conditions due to the fact that it is antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory,” she says. “Neem is excellent in promoting wound healing as well as soothing the skin.”
For spas, this makes neem an excellent ingredient to use in treatments that work to heal and purify the skin, such as an anti-acne facial. Neem’s soothing properties also benefit spa-goers with rosacea or those with mild-to-strong skin sensitivity. PRATIMA Spa (New York City) offers both a Detoxifying Facial ($125, 75 minutes) with neem to nourish and heal congested skin and acne conditions and a Soothing Facial ($65, 30 minutes; $96, 60 minutes), which uses the ingredient to calm rosacea or sensitive, dehydrated skin.
Neem’s benefits literally stretch from head to toe. It’s an effective ingredient in shampoos and hair serums to treat dry hair and scalp problems. “Neem oils help to control bacteria and fungi on the scalp responsible for red, itchy, and flaking skin, otherwise known as dandruff,” says James Grundy, director at Eufora International. The haircare line uses neem oil in its thickening serum and beautifying serum to moisturize and condition. Because neem oil helps decrease inflammation and itching caused by irritated skin, spas can incorporate it into a scalp massage to relieve dryness and promote a healthier head of hair.
The tree’s antifungal and antibacterial properties also make it appealing in treatments tailored to men. Whether it is a pedicure and foot massage or a men’s facial, neem effectively calms the skin after extractions and relieves shaving irritation. The same holds true for women’s skincare needs. Apply neem oil after waxing to relieve redness, bumpiness, and sensitivity.
Neem seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants, which is why SpaRitual uses it in its Farewell Helps Fight Fungus nail treatment product to help prevent the spread of nail fungus and bacteria. The formula also contains tea tree oil and lemon bioflavonoids, the combination of which pack a powerful—yet soothing—punch to tone skin and cuticles. “Neem oil, tea tree oil, and lemon bioflavonoid contain natural antibacterial properties that have been known to help prevent the spread of fungus and bacteria,” says Nicole Erickson, research and development manager at SpaRitual. “Neem oil soothes and moisturizes to promote clear, healthy, and well-conditioned nails.”
Additionally, neem can help heal wounds, and soothe cuts, hives, abrasions, sunburn, and many types of skin irritations. Incorporate it into after-sun treatments to soothe skin that has been overexposed to the elements. “It is starting to become more widely known that neem is a powerful cure-all,” says Sepulveda. “We hear from many people that they keep a neem-based product in their household as part of their first aid kits.”
Educate spa guests about neem’s healing reputation, and encourage them to take home a neem-based product for use all year. “We recommend applying neem oil to the skin underneath sunscreen, as it has a natural sun-guard factor and offers additional protection as a natural insect repellant,” says Sepulveda. “Year-round, neem can be used on a wide variety of skin conditions, where antibacterial and anti-inflammatory healing properties are needed.”
Because of neem’s powerful purifying and anti-inflammatory properties, it can have a slight drying effect on the skin. In these cases, spa educators recommend combining neem with an appropriate base oil, such as avocado oil, in a one-to-one ratio. Additionally, both Sepulveda and Koul say pregnant women, women trying to conceive, and children should not consume neem products, such as leaves and tea, and they don’t recommend massaging neem on an expectant mother’s stomach area, as it can have a negative effect on the unborn child.
For most spa visitors, however, neem is safe, and there are no contraindications with using neem externally. Take a lesson from ancient, holistic approaches to health and wellness, and add neem treatments to help heal guests’ bodies, minds, and souls.