The Benefits of Emu Oil

Does the research support the health claims?

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 antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids), emu oil has long been used in aboriginal culture to treat skin conditions.

Widely touted for its purported anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties, emu oil is said to promote the healing of wounds and to treat skin conditions as far-ranging as ​acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and rashes. When used for hair care, emu oil is said to increase fullness, add shine, eliminate split ends, and control dandruff.

Purported Health Benefits

Beyond its benefits to the skin and hair, emu oil is believed by some to treat other health conditions, including those associated with the immune system. Among them:

While some manufacturers are often quick to promote these claims, there is actually little evidence that emu oil can improve a person's skin or hair, much less treat a general or chronic health condition. Most of the evidence is anecdotal at best.

With that being said, there have been a number of small studies examining the benefits of emu oil in treating common and uncommon skin conditions. Here is what they found:

Emu Oil in Cancer Therapy

According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2010, taking emu oil orally may help treat an adverse, cancer-related condition known as mucositis. Mucositis is commonly experienced in people undergoing chemotherapy and is characterized the inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract,

The study, conducted on lab rats, found that emu oil reduced inflammation of the intestinal tract in animals exposed to chemotherapy drugs. While enlightening, it is unclear whether the oil would provide the same benefit to humans. Moreover, it has not yet been established how safe the oil is to consume.

A similar study looked at the use of emu oil in treating dermatitis in persons undergoing radiation therapy. According to the research, published in July 2015 issue of International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics, persons who used a topical application of emu oil or cottonseed oil during therapy and six weeks after experienced an improvement in their skin condition. Those using emu oil, however, tended to have fewer toxic skin events compared to those who used cottonseed oil.

Emu Oil to Treat Common Skin Conditions

Other research teams have explored the use of emu oil in treating common skin injuries, such as inflammation and burns.

One such study, conducted in 2016, examined the effect of emu oil on dried or cracked nipples in breastfeeding mothers. What they found was at the daily application of an emu-oil-based cream to the areola of breastfeeding women significantly improve hydration. (Skin hydration is important in preventing damage to the skin barrier during breastfeeding.) However, there was a no assessment as to the safety of emu oil to the breastfed infant.

Other researchers have aimed to assess whether emu oil can enhance wound healing. An animal-based study published in the 2016 edition of Dermatology Research and Practice concluded that the use of emu oil to treat burns had a negative effect, slowing healing and prolonging inflammation compared to having no treatment at all.

What This Tells Us

Based on the research, there is very little evidence to support any of the health claims associated with emu oil. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration featured emu oil in a report entitled "How to Spot a Health Fraud" and warned consumers to "be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of unrelated diseases."

Generally speaking, supplements like emu oil do not need to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs do. They are not regulated in the same way, and their effects on special populations (including children, pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems) are typically under-researched or entirely ignored.

If considering a product like emu oil, always speak with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a medical condition and avoiding standard care can result in serious and sometimes irreversible consequences.

View Article Sources
  • Afshar, M.; Ghaderi, R.; Zardast, M. et al. "Effects of Topical Emu Oil on Burn Wounds in the Skin of Balb/c Mice." Dermatol Res Pract. 2016; 2016:6419216. DOI: 10.1155/2016/6419216.
  • Lindsey, R.; Geier, M.; Yasbeck, Y. et al. "Orally administered emu oil decreases acute inflammation and alters selected small intestinal parameters in a rat model of mucositis." Brit J Nutrit. 2010; 104(4):513-9. DOI: 10.1017/S000711451000084X.
  • Rollmann, D.; Novotny, P.; Petersen, I. et al. "Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of Processed Ultra Emu Oil Versus Placebo in the Prevention of Radiation Dermatitis." 2015; 92(3):650-8. DOI: 10.1016.jrobp.2015.02.028
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "How to Spot a Health Fraud." Silver Spring, Maryland; updated May 5, 2016.
  • Zanardo, V.; Giarrizzo, D.; Maiolo, L. et al. "Efficacy of Topical Application of Emu Oil on Areola Skin Barrier in Breastfeeding Women." J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2016; 21(1):10-3. DOI: 10.1177/2156587215588653.