Hundreds of years ago, native Australian aboriginals figured out that oil from emu birds could help with wound healing as well as aches and pains. Today, emu oil is widely used for skin conditions like eczema and burns. Modern research may support this native remedy.
Unsure about supplementing with a bird oil? Read on:
What Is Emu Oil?
As the name suggests, this oil is extracted from the back fat of the Australian Emu bird (Dromaius novaehallandiae), a flightless bird native to Australia (similar to the ostrich). This back fat is then rendered and filtered like lard, producing a clear bright yellow oil with several healing properties.
All the Good Fats…
Emu oil contains all three types of omega fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9), which makes it an excellent fatty acid supplement. About 50% of its fat content is from monounsaturated omega-9 fat called oleic acid. This fat is also present in olive oil.
It also contains various natural healing compounds like antioxidants, carotenoids, flavones, polyphenols, and phospholipids.
Just as grass-fed beef has more nutritious fatty acids than grain-fed beef, the nutritional content of this oil varies based on what the emus eat. Today, some emu birds are farmed for oil and meat rather than wild caught. Because emu oil is readily absorbed into the skin, it is very important to get your emu oil from a reputable source. (This is the one I use.)
Benefits of Emu Oil
Recent research and human clinical trials support the benefits of emu oil for overall health and for specific conditions. It is important to note that in most cases, the studies showed that it was effective, but not as effective as conventional medication for several conditions.
However, this natural oil doesn’t come with the same side effects as these medications. In many cases, it can be a great natural option to help manage symptoms either on its own or together with other treatments.
Emu Oil Benefits for the Skin
Topical use is well supported in research. Scientific studies and anecdotal reports both show emu oil’s potential to:
Fight Inflammation (Eczema, Dermatitis, and Psoriasis)
If you have ever applied this oil to your skin, you probably noticed that it is very light and absorbs very quickly. The fat content of emu oil allows it to pass easily through the outermost layer of the skin (called the stratum corneum). This is likely the reason people often use it for chronic inflammatory problems like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.
In patients with seborrheic dermatitis, emu oil may relieve itchiness, redness, and scaling.
Address the Internal Too!
Skin problems are often a sign that something is wrong inside, like food sensitivities, gut dysbiosis, or nutrient deficiencies. Conventional medications like steroids simply suppress the immune system. The symptoms are suppressed, but the root causes remain.
Emu oil can provide great relief, but it is still important to address the root cause to clear the skin.
Heal Wounds and Avoid Scarring
Many people find this oil very effective to support wound healing and reduce scarring. A 2015 study found that it promotes skin regeneration and reduces inflammation. Testing on animal wounds showed inconclusive results, and we still don’t have any human studies that confirm the effects of emu oil on a wound.
One 2016 study tested the effects of emu oil on the healing rate of burn wounds in mice. They found mice that receive this oil heal more slowly but have much less scarring compared to the control group. Another Chinese study tested emu oil on burn wounds of rats and found that emu oil is superior to betadine and liquid paraffin treatments.
Protect Nipples During Breastfeeding
A small clinical trial using emu oil on new breastfeeding mothers found that it is somewhat effective at relieving the pain from breastfeeding and keeping the nipple skin nourished. While this oil is helpful, the authors of this study erred on the side of caution and expressed concerns that more testing would be required to ensure that emu oil is safe for new mothers and babies before it is widely used for this purpose.
Stimulate Skin and Hair Growth
Emu oil can stimulate the regeneration of skin cells and hair growth in patients with health conditions that cause hair loss, including alopecia and chemotherapy. This use is the most widely documented with anecdotal evidence, though again, more research is needed.
Emu Oil Benefits for (Inside) the Body
Because emu oil contains many healing substances and can readily be absorbed, its health benefits are beyond skin-deep. Scientists have observed several anti-inflammatory benefits such as its ability to:
Applying this oil mixed with eucalyptus on the skin significantly reduces arthritis swelling in rats, especially compared with other oils like lard, fish oil, olive oil, and evening primrose oil. Therefore, emu oil may help with arthritis and joint pain in humans.
Reduce Gut Inflammation
Several studies show that emu oil is very healing to the gut, especially in cases of diseases like colitis and Crohn’s disease. Some specific benefits include:
- Soothing gut ulcers and inflammation that are side effects of chemotherapy (tested on mice).
- Reducing damage and inflammation in a rat model of ulcerative colitis when combined with licorice. Another study also found that emu oil alone can help with ulcerative colitis.
- Protecting the gut from more ulceration when combined aloe vera in a Crohn’s disease model in rats.
Given that many of these chronic digestive health problems have a lot in common, it is likely that eating this oil might help with other diseases of inflamed gut as well. However, additional studies, especially in humans, are necessary to confirm this.
Olive oil is often recommended to help balance cholesterol levels. It is said to increase good cholesterol levels. This native oil contains many of the same beneficial fats and may have the same effect. A 2004 study found that hamsters fed emu oil had significantly better cholesterol and triglycerides compared to hamsters fed with olive oil.
A Note on Emu Oil for Sensitive Skin
The skin can absorb and make use of natural oils. For sensitive skin, animal fats are generally better tolerated than plant-sourced fats. This may be because animal fats contain fatty acids that are more similar to the fatty acids that are present in our skin. Emu oil is one of the most anti-inflammatory oils that the skin recognizes and readily absorbs.
Those who have eczema or very dry, itchy skin, may benefit from this natural oil. For additional moisturizing, it helps to mix it with tallow balm or a body butter. It is possible, however, to mix emu oil with other ingredients or even tallow for the best of both worlds.
Bottom Line (& What I’ve Tried)
This is certainly one of the more unusual remedies I’ve tried over the years. It isn’t mainstream, but I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it so I figured I’d share my experience. To be honest, I was reluctant to try this remedy for a long time … but I’ve known about it for over a decade.
In fact, in high school, a kid in my class used to talk about emu oil and how he used it in various ways. Back then, I just thought it was a little unusual (nice grown up way of saying what I really thought). To my surprise, years later I stumbled on open research supporting the benefits of this bird oil.
When one of my favorite companies started carrying a high quality emu oil, I decided to give it a try. It certainly isn’t the most effective or versatile remedy I’ve tried. I did notice that it is one of the few oils I can use externally without breaking out. I’ve been experimenting with it in lotions and other topical recipes and prefer to use it this way.
Have you ever tried emu oil? What did you use it for? Please share in the comments below!
- “Origin of Emu Oil“
- M.K. Jeengar et al., “Review on emu products for use as complementary and alternative medicine,” Nutrition 31, no. 1 (2015).
- Mohammad Afshar et al., “Effects of topical emu oil on burn wounds in the skin of Balb/c mice,” Dermatology Research and Practice, 2016.
- Li ZQ et al., “Effects of topical emu oil on wound healing in scalded rats,” Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao 24, no. 11 (November 2004).
- V. Zanardo et al., “Efficacy of topical application of emu oil on areola skin barrier in breastfeeding women,” Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine 21, no. 1 (June 15, 2015).
- Michael F. Holick, “Use of emu oil for stimulating skin and hair growth,” US Patent 5744128 A, April 28, 1998.
- A. Turner et al., “Traditional medicinal oils sourced from birds,” Progress in Drug Research 70 (2015).
- Ruth J. Lindsay et al., “Orally administered emu oil decreases acute inflammation and alters selected small intestinal parameters in a rat model of mucositis,” British Journal of Nutrition 104, no. 4 (November 2014).
- Sethuraman et al., “Modulation of PPAR? and TNF? by emu oil and glycyrrhizin in ulcerative colitis,” Inflammopharmacology 31, no. 1 (February 2015).
- Bhaskar Vemu et al., “Emu oil offers protection in Crohn’s disease model in rats,” BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 16 (2016).
- Thomas A. Wilson et al., “Comparative effects of emu and olive oil on aortic early atherosclerosis and associated risk factors in hypercholesterolemic,” Nutrition Research 24, no. 6 (June 2004).