The Benefits of Emu Oil

What You Need to Know

Woman applying hair oil
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Emu oil is a natural product made from the refined fat of the emu (a large flightless bird native to Australia). Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3 fatty acids) and antioxidants, emu oil has long been used in aboriginal medicine for treating skin conditions.

Widely touted as a remedy for a host of conditions, proponents claim that personal care products containing emu oil offer a variety of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Emu oil is also available in supplement form.

Why Do People Use Emu Oil?

When applied to the skin, creams and lotions containing emu oil are said to promote healing of wounds and burns and treat skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and rashes.

Emu oil is said to aid in hair care by increasing fullness, adding shine, and eliminating split ends. Emu oil is also said to treat dandruff.

Proponents of emu oil claim that it can help with the following:

In addition, proponents suggest that emu oil supplements can boost the immune system and relieve muscle tension and pain.

The Benefits of Emu Oil: Can It Really Help?

To date, there is very little evidence that emu oil can improve skin, hair, or health. The available data on emu oil's effects come from a small number of preliminary studies. Here's a look at some findings from this research:

1) Mucositis

Taking emu oil orally may help treat mucositis, according to preliminary research published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2010. (A serious disorder marked by inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, mucositis sometimes occurs as a side effect of chemotherapy.)

Looking at a group of rats recovering from chemotherapy, scientists found that animals fed emu oil experienced a decrease in inflammation in the intestinal tract. However, it's not known whether emu oil might have the same effect on humans. It's also important to note that little is known about the safety of consuming emu oil.

2) Radiation Dermatitis

Emu oil applied to skin may help to reduce radiation dermatitis in people undergoing radiation therapy to the breast or chest wall, according to a pilot study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics in 2015. For the study, participants applied either emu oil or cottonseed oil twice daily during the course of radiation therapy and for six weeks after completion of treatment. At the study's end, there was a trend for reduced skin toxicity in participants using emu oil. 

3) Dry Nipples in Breastfeeding Women

Skin hydration and pH are important in preventing damage to the skin barrier during breastfeeding. In a study published in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2016, applying an emu-oil based cream to the areola skin of breastfeeding women was found to significantly improve skin hydration.

4) Burns

In tests on animals, the authors of a 2016 study published in Dermatology Research and Practice found that applying emu oil to burns resulted in slower healing and prolonged inflammation compared to no treatment. Emu oil, however, did have some positive effects on wound healing, such as increased hair follicles in the margins of the wound and a positive effect on the synthesis of collagen.

Other Conditions

There's little evidence to support any of the claims for emu oil's health effects. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) featured emu oil in a report titled "How to Spot Health Fraud." In this guide to identifying false health claims, the FDA spotlighted marketing claims that emu oil can treat a broad scope of conditions (including major illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes and warned consumers to "be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of unrelated diseases."

Side Effects and Safety

Little is known about the side effects and safety of emu supplements. In general, supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of emu oil, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where to Find It

Emu oil is used as an ingredient in several types of personal-care products, including creams, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and massage oils. Emu oil is also available in capsules. In addition, you can purchase pure emu oil that contains no added ingredients.

Widely available on the Internet, emu oil products are also found in some natural health stores and drugstores.

The Takeaway

A little emu oil in skin or hair care products may help to moisturize your skin. While it may be tempting to want to try emu oil for a health concern, it's important to keep in mind that it shouldn't be used in place of a treatment provided by your health care professional. Talk with your care provider before trying emu oil to weigh the pros and cons and to discuss whether it's right for you.

Sources:

Afshar M, Ghaderi R, Zardast M, Delshad P. Effects of Topical Emu Oil on Burn Wounds in the Skin of Balb/c Mice. Dermatol Res Pract. 2016;2016:6419216. 

Rollmann DC, Novotny PJ, Petersen IA, et al. Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of Processed Ultra Emu Oil Versus Placebo in the Prevention of Radiation Dermatitis. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2015 Jul 1;92(3):650-8. 

Zanardo V, Giarrizzo D, Maiolo L, Straface G. Efficacy of Topical Application of Emu Oil on Areola Skin Barrier in Breastfeeding Women. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016 Jan;21(1):10-3. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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