Everything You Need to Know About Emu Oil

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on March 21, 2017Written by Kathleen Pointer on March 21, 2017
emu oil

What is emu oil made from?

Emu oil is made from the fat of an emu. The emu is a flightless bird, native to Australia, that looks similar to the ostrich. According to The New York Times, one bird produces about 250 ounces of oil. Most farmers only raise emus for their fat, but some try to use as much of the bird as possible, from its meat to its skin, which is made into leather. Whether or not your emu oil comes from an ethical source depends on the manufacturer.

Emu oil has garnered the attention of the holistically minded. While some people report benefits of the oil on their skin and overall health, others find that it’s not too different from other oils. Read on to learn the benefits and uses of emu oil.

What’s in emu oil?

The biggest benefit of emu oil is how it absorbs into the skin. Due to its smaller particles, emu oil has increased enhancement and carrier capabilities: It penetrates deeper into your skin and carries other ingredients with it.

Emu oil is rich in:

These compounds can help fight inflammation, dry skin, high cholesterol, and more.

What can you use emu oil for?

You can use emu oil as a topical treatment or a carrier oil. Mixing it with lotions and creams may help your skin absorb the ingredients better. You can also take emu oil as an oral supplement in the form of capsules for inflammation and cholesterol. Emu oil, though, is not a cure-all, and it’s important to know the research on its benefits is ongoing.

1. Moisturize your face, body, and skin

As an occlusive moisturizer, emu oil does a fantastic job of improving hydration and preventing water loss. In fact, a lotion with emu oil as a base may penetrate and help your skin better than pure emu oil. Studies also suggest that emu oil may have fewer side effects for people with dermatitis and eczema.

2. Lose weight and lower cholesterol

Along with calorie restriction and exercise, emu oil can help reduce obesity. You can swap fish oil capsules for emu oil capsules, especially if you’re sensitive to seafood. While there’s little research on emu oil for weight loss and cholesterol, there’s plenty of evidence on the effectiveness of fatty acids.

3. Prevent skin aging

In addition to its moisturizing capabilities, emu oil has positive effects on collagen production. Collagen is one of the compounds that keeps your skin elastic, plump, and wrinkle-free. Emu oil’s antioxidant properties can also target any signs of aging caused by oxidative stress.

One place aging starts is around the eyes. Look for an eye treatment with emu oil, caffeine, and vitamin K. A 2015 study examined the effects of these ingredients on 11 women, who were instructed to apply a pad coated in them to one eye. After four weeks, the eye that was treated showed fading of dark circles, improved elasticity, and fewer lines.

4. Decrease inflammation

Taken orally, emu oil is another source of fatty acids that can contribute to better digestive health. The anti-inflammatory properties of emu oil may also benefit gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Cell studies suggest that emu oil ingestion can benefit:

  • absorptive function
  • gastric emptying
  • intestinal transit
  • bowel, joint, and overall inflammation

5. Improve wounds, scars, and sun damage

Use creams with emu oil for healing cuts, burns, or bruises. The linoleic acid in emu oil has positive effects that may even:

  • increase hair follicles in wound areas
  • offer protective benefits from scarring
  • lighten age spots
  • decrease acne scars

Most studies on wound healing have been conducted on mice and guinea pigs, but the results suggest that applying emu oil after the inflammation stages can help healing.

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6. Reduce nipple sensitivity

New mothers can use an emu oil–based cream after delivery to improve hydration around their nipple and areola. This can help decrease nipple pain or trauma due to breastfeeding. One study looked at this treatment and found that the emu oil didn’t affect the pH, temperature, or elasticity of the areola.

If you try this treatment, be sure to use a warm cloth to remove residual oil before breastfeeding. There’s limited research on the safety of emu oil for children and infants.

7. Repel bugs

Emu oil contains terpenes, which are natural substances that repel insects. Research shows that terpenes may be effective against adult head lice, cockroaches, and triatomine bugs. However, terpenes may attract mosquitos, so you might want to use other repellants when outdoors.

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8. Help hair and nail growth

Apply emu oil with a few drops of peppermint oil to your scalp and massage to help hair growth. Early studies on mice suggest that emu oil can promote new hair follicles.

Ingesting emu oil capsules may also help with your hair and nail health. A diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can improve hair density, and decrease brittle hair and nails, as well as hair loss. It may take two to six months for you to notice any changes in your hair and nails.

Where to buy emu oil and what to look for

Cost of emu oil currently ranges from $9 to $20 online, depending on the brand. Quality emu oil can last for about one to two years, depending on how you store it. Keeping it in the refrigerator may help extend shelf life.

Currently in the United States, most emu farming is farm-to-finish, meaning that the farmers themselves also handle sales. The American Emu Association has a list of certified members who practice ethical farming. You can also contact the farms to ask if they use the entire bird, from meat to skin.

Always buy emu oil from a reputable source to promote ethical farming and avoid contamination. Contaminants can cause unintended side effects such as skin irritation, especially over long-term use.

Side effects of emu oil

There is no known danger of using emu oil over a long period of time. It’s recommend to avoid putting emu oil on poisonous substances on your skin, such as oil from poison ivy or oak. Because emu oil is an enhancer that penetrates the skin, this may delay healing.

The bottom line

People looking to incorporate more holistic and natural ingredients into their routine may want to look at emu oil. Emu oil is an attractive ingredient for topical application, especially for skin conditions like eczema, scars, and dry skin. However, there is limited data on whether emu oil is more beneficial than other sources of fatty acids.

Talk to a doctor, nutritionist, or another medical profession if you have concerns about dosage and use. Don’t use emu oil as a replacement for any medical treatment that your doctor has prescribed.

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