Most people know that the ostrich is the largest bird in the world. But have you ever been curious who holds the spot after it? It's the emu (Dromaius novaehallandiae), a native Australian bird that can grow up to 2 meters tall.1 Just like ostriches, emus are flightless, although they have wings that they can stretch out to cool themselves by allowing air to circulate around the body.2
These birds are often raised for their meat, and other byproducts such as leather and oil.3 In particular, pure emu oil has been studied for its potential benefits and uses; continue browsing this page to learn how you can use this oil to your advantage.
What Is Emu Oil?
Pure emu oil is a bright yellow liquid (mostly fat) that's collected from deposits below the bird's skin. Once the fats are collected, these are passed through different filters and processes until pure emu oil is made. Refined and completely pure emu oil is typically examined by researchers to determine the oil's potential capabilities.4
There are different types of emu oil based on levels of filtration and processing. Most oils are said to pass through full processing to lessen bacteria and contaminants, while some oils are refined more to create higher amounts of fatty acids.
Certification programs, such as those spearheaded by the American Emu Association (AEA), aim to guarantee that emu oil being sold is pure and that the birds were treated humanely. The AEA developed the Emu Trade Rules, a self-regulatory method that ensure safety and consistency standards in emu oil production are being upheld. Together with the American Oil Chemist Society, the AEA also devised a system that classified emu oil according to their purity and purpose:5
• Grade A: For pharmaceutical, cosmetic and dietary supplements; often called fully refined emu oil
• Grade B: For some cosmetic applications, but not for digestion
• Grade C: Crude emu oil that's primarily used for making soaps and animal feed
Emu Oil's Potential Health Benefits
Researchers discovered antioxidants, compounds and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in emu oil, such as:6
• Essential fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9) like oleic, palmitic and linoleic acids7
• Vitamin A
• Additional compounds like carotenoids, flavones, polyphenols, tocopherol and phospholipids
These beneficial elements are responsible for the health benefits of emu oil, which include:8
• Boosting skin moisture and absorption: Emu oil can help retain your skin's moisture and ensure that it's less prone to cracking or drying out. The oil is made of smaller particles that can easily pass through the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the skin,9,10 and carry healthy compounds into the deeper layers.
Emu oil also has positive effects towards collagen production, an important compound that maintains skin elasticity and keeps it plump and wrinkle-free. Emu oil may also be beneficial for people who have dry skin because of skin cancer radiation.
• Possessing anti-inflammatory capabilities: Emu oil may help alleviate ear inflammation, inflammatory bowel syndrome and possibly prevent chemotherapy induced bone loss.11 Emu oil is also often used on arthritis patients because of its supposed effects against muscular and arthritic joint pain.12
• Improving digestive health: Fatty acids in emu oil can help enhance digestive health, while emu oil's anti-inflammatory capabilities can aid with addressing gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Cell studies have also revealed that consuming emu oil internally can benefit absorptive function, gastric emptying, intestinal transit and bowel, joint and overall inflammation.
• Enhancing hair and nail growth: Emu oil, whether taken in capsule form or topically applied along with an essential oil like peppermint, can assist with hair and nail growth and boost hair and nail health. Early studies on mice suggested that emu oil can promote growth of new hair follicles.
The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in emu oil may help improve hair density and reduce brittle hair and nail loss. However, it may take around two to six months for a person to notice any of these changes linked to emu oil use.
• Helping reduce breast sensitivity that's common among breastfeeding mothers: There may be instances when a woman may experience pain when a newborn improperly latches onto her breast. Improper latching can also lead to soreness, engorgement and cracked and dry skin.
If these symptoms become very severe, this can prompt some new mothers to stop breastfeeding altogether. However, researchers discovered that breastfeeding mothers who used an emu oil-based cream for 24 hours (beginning soon after delivery) had breast areola and nipple skin that were more hydrated.
If using an emu oil-based cream, make sure to wipe the nipple and the breast with a warm cloth before breastfeeding to remove traces of the oil, since it hasn't been proven safe for children and infants to ingest.
What Is Emu Oil Good For?
Origins of emu oil use can be traced back to Australian Aborigine culture, where according to oral history, the oil was used for 40,000 years to help treat minor aches and pains, speed up wound healing and protect the skin from different factors. The Aborigines were also responsible for introducing emu oil to European culture as a natural sunscreen and moisturizer.
Eventually, European settlers in Australia adopted the use of emu oil (and other natural remedies used by the Aborigines) to address various concerns. Here are some of the most notable uses of emu oil:13,14
• Insect repellent: Emu oil contains terpenes or natural substances that can help with disorienting or repelling certain insects like adult head lice, cockroaches and triatomine bugs, consequently keeping them at bay and preventing them from harming you. A caveat about terpenes, however, is their tendency to attract mosquitoes. If you're going outdoors or to mosquito-infested areas, use other natural insect repellents instead.
• Wound, cut, burn or bruise treatment: Emu oil's painkilling effect, antioxidant content and ability to reach deep into the skin make it a potential treatment for wounds, cuts, bruises or burns. When used in small amounts, the oil can help relieve minor wound pain, while the antioxidants assist in protecting the skin from further damage.
Plus, a fatty acid called linoleic acid in emu oil can help increase hair follicles in wound areas, deliver protective properties against scarring, lighten age spots and reduce acne scars.
• Skin health maintenance: Research has suggested that topical application of emu oil can assist with raising healthy skin cell levels. Emu oil may work well for the skin as it can lessen the appearance of wrinkles and repair aging or sun-damaged skin.
Plus, emu oil may also be useful for easing skin conditions like alopecia, rosacea, hypopigmentation, shingles and dermatitis. Emu oil is also added to moisturizers containing other helpful compounds, because this substance is said to pass its ability to be easily absorbed to other substances.
Emu oil can be used either topically or internally, but only pharmaceutical-grade oils must be used for human consumption. Cosmetic-grade emu oil, meanwhile, is safe to be used on the skin and hair.15
Studies on Emu Oil
There are other capabilities of emu oil that have been examined by researchers in various studies:
• Reducing cholesterol levels:16 A 2014 study published in the journal Nutrition revealed that subjects who took emu oil orally had significantly reduced cholesterol levels in the body, compared to olive oil. More trials, however, are recommended to fully substantiate this claim.17
• May help treat ulcers: A Chinese study discovered that applications of different levels of emu oil yielded a protective effect among patients with ulcers, and in some cases, emu oil was able to decrease ulcer size as well.18
• Has protective effects against Crohn's disease:19 As emphasized in a 2016 animal study published in BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, the combination of emu oil and aloe vera was able to protect the body from indomethacin-induced ulceration, possibly because of the different mechanisms of anti-inflammatory effects in emu oil and aloe vera.
The anti-inflammatory substances highlighted included salicylic acid in aloe vera and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in emu oil that acted as pseudosubstrates (substances that mimic the substrate of an enzyme and prevent its activity20) to the cyclooxygenase enzyme.
• Lessening fine lines and dehydration:21,22 According to a 2015 study published in Advanced Biomedical Research, emu oil has the potential to reduce fine lines and dehydration that may contribute to dry eyes.
The researchers examined the effects of an anti-wrinkle and dark circle eye pad composed of 3 percent w/w caffeine and 1 percent vitamin K in a healthy, convenient and cosmeceutical emu oil base. Eleven female subjects were instructed to apply this eye pad onto the right eye, while a placebo pad consisting of water was placed on the left eye.
After four weeks, the skin surrounding the right eye of all the subjects had a reduction in the depth of wrinkles and dark circles, showing that emu oil, when combined with other skin-friendly ingredients, can inhibit appearance of dark circles and work as an emollient.
• Addressing seborrheic dermatitis (SD):23 A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences in 2013 revealed that emu oil had potential in significantly improving itching, erythema and scales that are often associated with SD. Compared to hydrocortisone and clotrimazole, however, which are conventional medications with side effects often prescribed to treat SD, emu oil was found to be less effective.
Ideal Dosage of Emu Oil
Before taking emu oil supplements or applying oil or cream products on the skin, consult a physician or holistic doctor first to know your ideal dosage. Several factors like age, health and other health conditions are taken into account in deciding the appropriate dose of emu oil, as there isn't enough scientific information available that'll determine an appropriate range of doses for emu oil. Ideally, if you're taking supplements, stick to the advised dosage stated on the bottle or container.24
How to Know If You're Buying Good-Quality Emu Oil
It's important to consider the source of emu oil and ensure that the emus lived in good condition — meaning they had plenty of room to roam and were able to consume a species-appropriate diet. Poor living conditions may yield inferior quality oil. The best types of emu oil are those that are purified as fully refined or molecular-distilled.25
Another reason why you should only purchase emu oil from a reputable source is because authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don't regulate its production.26
In the U.S., most emu farming is farm-to-finish, and the farmers themselves handle sales. You can check the AEA's website for a list of certified members who practice ethical emu farming and can give you a high-quality product. You can also contact the farmers to check if they are able to use the entire bird too, from meat to skin.27
Depending on the brand, emu oil's price ranges from $9 to $20. Good-quality emu oil can last for around one to two years depending on how you store it. To help extend its shelf life, you can refrigerate emu oil.
Side Effects of Emu Oil
Before you consider using emu oil, talk to a physician or holistic doctor and undergo a skin patch test to check for allergies. These steps can help reduce instances of skin irritation. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid taking emu oil internally because of the lack of scientific evidence supporting emu oil's use during these stages of a woman's life.28,29
While there aren't a lot of side effects attributed to emu oil use, if you have allergies or hypersensitivity to emus, emu oil or other constituents, avoid the oil. Exercise caution too when taking emu oil alongside anti-inflammatory agents. Refrain from putting emu oil on or alongside poisonous substances on the skin too, such as oil from poison ivy or oak, because of possible complications.30,31
Always buy emu oil from a reputable source not just to promote farming and make sure you have good-quality oil, but to avoid contamination too. If the emu oil is affected by contaminants, it can cause side effects like skin irritation, especially with long-term use.
Emu oil is a very unlikely source of benefits that can impact your wellbeing, even though not a lot of people are familiar with the emu bird. However, take note that the research surrounding emu oil, whether for its benefits, ideal dosage and side effects, is still lacking, even though it has shown potential against certain conditions, especially those that mainly involve the skin.
If you truly wish to take advantage of what emu oil has to offer, it's recommended that you get the opinion of a physician or holistic doctor, so that you can prevent complications from occurring.
Frequently Asked Questions About Emu Oil
Q: Where does emu oil come from?
A: Pure emu oil comes from the fats of the emu bird, located just below its skin.32
Q: How is emu oil made?
A: High-quality, pure emu oil is produced by collecting the emu's fats and then passing these through filters and processes.
Q: How do you use emu oil?
A: Emu oil can be used for different purposes, such as an insect repellent, a treatment for wounds, burns, cuts and scrapes, and a skin moisturizer that may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.33
Q: Does emu oil work in reducing cholesterol levels?
A: A study published in the journal Nutrition in 2015 discovered that oral intake of emu oil was able to reduce cholesterol levels in the body. While this result looks promising, more studies still need to be conducted to fully determine the oil's effectivity.34
Q: Is emu oil good for psoriasis?
A: According to Berkeley Wellness, there is a possibility that emu oil's moisturizing effect can help certain skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. However, scientific evidence is still lacking if the oil has definite benefits for psoriasis patients, so it's advised to consult a physician or holistic doctor first before using it.35