Emu Oil for skin: benefits, facts and myths

What we know from research
Το έλαιο Emu έχει πιθανά οφέλη για το δέρμα αλλά δεν είναι ανώτερο από άλλα έλαια.

Table of contents

1. Introduction

Recently a blog reader asked me if Emu oil can really penetrate the skin and eliminate wrinkles, as some websites claim. Instantly, a large thought bubble popped up over my head: Should I sacrifice my veggie diet for the sake of vanity? Ok, almost veggie. But I’ve been researching skincare ingredients since the mid-2000’s and I knew that if Emu oil was the fountain of youth, we would know by now.

If you’re a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist, no need to worry: you won’t go out of business because of Emu oil. Emu oil does seem to have benefits for the skin, but it’s not a miracle cure. 

I did a lot of research on Emu oil and I compared many different research papers in order to separate fact from fiction. I think you’ll find everything you need to know in this post!

2. What is Emu oil?

Emu oil is derived from the adipose tissue -the body fat- of the Emu birds. It is suitable for both oral consumption and topical application. It was used traditionally by Aboriginals to treat burns, scrapes and wounds and to alleviate pain, arthritis and other ailments. Nowadays, Emu oil is touted for its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits. 

Emus are flightless birds that are native to Australia. They, along with ostriches and other birds, belong to a group of birds that are called ratites.

3. Do they kill Emus for the oil?

The Emus are inevitably killed to make the oil. It would be impossible to extract the oil from the body fat of the animal otherwise. Obviously, Emu oil is not suitable for vegetarians.

At least sometimes the Emus are not killed just for the oil: Emu meat is considered a good alternative to beef and it is a source of protein, iron, creatine, vitamins A and E, and other nutrients. 

I read in a website that the Emus are not killed to make the oil. Only God knows how oil can be extracted from the body fat of the bird without harming it. With liposuction!?

4. Emu oil composition

Emu oil is a source of fatty acids and antioxidants that may have benefits for skin. However, research has shown that the concentration of these compounds can vary significantly between different oils. The nutrition facts on Wikipedia may not reflect what’s in your bottle of Emu oil. Some factors that affect its composition are:

  • The diet of the Emu
  • The part of the animal from which the oil is produced
  • The DNA of the Emu
  • How the oil is processed and stored. 

5. Fatty acids in Emu oil

Just like every oil, Emu oil contains a combination of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids that are present in triglyceride form. However, the diet of the Emus affects the fatty acid ratios. Emus that are fed Soybean oil produce oil higher in polyunsaturated fats compared to those that are fed beef tallow. Perhaps this is why even reliable sources report rather different fatty acid profiles for Emu oil. 

5.1 Unsaturated fatty acids

The main fatty acid is Oleic acid and it comprises roughly 42 to 53 % of the total fatty acid content. This is the Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid that is associated with some of the benefits of olive oil consumption.

Emu oil is also a good source of Linoleic acid, an Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid: somewhere between 6% and 21%. 

Emu oil is sometimes promoted as a good source of Omega-3’s, even in medical websites. This is false! It only contains roughly 1-1.5% Linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated Omega-3. Oil from feral Emus may contain more Omega-3’s, but you are very unlikely to find it unless you’re in the mood to go hunting down under.

If you wish to incorporate plant-based Omega-3’s in your diet or skincare, use Flaxseed or Chia seed oil. Or Perilla oil, if you can find it. I am sure your local supermarket will have a vast selection of Perilla oils!

5.2 Saturated fatty acids

Emu oil contains at least 30% saturated fat. The main saturated fatty acid present in Emu oil is Palmitic acid at a concentration of around 22%. It also contains roughly 9-10% Stearic acid. Emus that are fed animal fats produce oil higher in saturated fats. 

My guess is that Emu oils with a very runny consistency contain less saturated fats, since the latter tend to solidify at room temperature. 

Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, it’s a different story. Irrespective of the health risks associated with excessive consumption of saturated fats, they may offer various benefits when applied topically

6. Antioxidants in Emu oil

Emu oil may be a source of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits for the skin. But considering its status as a miracle oil, the research on the antioxidants it contains is surprisingly scarce. One study did find that it contains small amounts of Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which are both Carotenoids. Other than that, Emu oil may also contain Polyphenols, Flavones, Phospholipids and Tocopherols, compounds typically present in plant oils.

The antioxidant content varies a lot between different Emu oils. It is likely that some antioxidants are lost in refined Emu oil, just like in many refined plant oils. Improper storage may also have a negative impact.

If the bottle of your Emu oil is clear, store it in a dark place so that the antioxidants don’t lose their potency.

7. Emu oil vs Ostrich oil

There are similarities in the fatty acid profiles of Emu and Ostrich oils. Also, both oils are sources of carotenoids. Still, these are two distinct birds and their oils are obviously not identical. 

In a reliable study, Emu oil was found to contain more Oleic acid (Omega-9) and saturated fat than Ostrich oil. Ostrich oil was higher in Linoleic (Omega-6) and Linolenic acid (Omega-3). It also had a higher antioxidant activity. 

However, in another study, Emu oil offered better protection against free radicals than Ostrich oil! It also contained less saturated fat. I guess the truth lies in the middle. 

As with Emu oil, Ostrich oil seems to have anti-inflammatory properties.

The confusion between Emu and Ostrich oils

In Greece, some online retailers erroneously translate Emu oil as Ostrich oil and I suspect this mix-up isn’t only a Greek phenomenon. 

For example, an English-language website sells Ostrich oil as a miracle oil that improves everything, even eye bags. I wish! And then it references studies on Emu oil to support some of these claims. 

The temptation to put links to these websites is ginormous. My Karma could use some improvement, so I won’t. 

If you really want to know what you’re buying, I suggest you shop your Emu or Ostrich oil from a reputable seller.

8. Can Emu oil penetrate skin?

The theory that Emu oil penetrates the dermis -the skin layer beneath the epidermis- is not scientifically proven. Most components of Emu oil probably don’t even make it past the Stratum Corneum, the outer layer of the epidermis. Oils are made up mainly of triglycerides. Research on plant oils showed that the triglycerides remain mostly in the upper layers of Stratum Corneum. That’s quite a distance from the dermis!

Emu oil doesn’t need to penetrate the dermis to provide benefits for the skin. The triglycerides form a protective barrier on the surface of the skin that decreases the loss of water. They may also have a positive impact on the function of keratinocytes, the main skin cells of the epidermis.

Emu oil as a penetration enhancer

The belief that Emu oil penetrates very deep into the skin possibly stems from the fact that it is a penetration enhancer: it improves the penetration of other substances into the skin. In clinical trials, it improved the absorption of topical medications, such as Minoxidil, a drug for hair loss. Emu oil may also enhance the absorption of cosmetic ingredients.

So, even though most of the Emu oil remains on the skin surface, perhaps some antioxidants it contains are transported deeper into the skin. But this is just a theory for the time being. 

Emu oils that are very rich in Oleic acid (an Omega-9) will probably be the most effective penetration enhancers. 

Penetration enhancement is not a unique feature of Emu oil. Various plant oils, such as Soybean and Olive oil, are also penetration enhancers. Some oils have been found more effective than Emu oil.

9. Does Emu oil hydrate skin?

Emu oil has the potential to moisturize the skin and alleviate dryness. Its triglycerides form a protective barrier that reduces transepidermal water loss. It may be an effective moisturizer both for new-born babies and breast-feeding mothers (for the skin around the nipples). It may also be slightly more moisturizing than Mineral oil.

However, we don’t know if Emu oil is superior to plant oils with proven benefits for the skin, such as Sunflower oil.

10. Does Emu oil have SPF?

Some websites claim that Emu oil has an SPF 8 but there is no research supporting this. Just like some other oils, it might offer a bit of sun protection. Olive and coconut oils were found to have an SPF 8 in vitro, i.e. not on actual humans. Emu oil is definitely not a replacement for your sunscreen and the same applies to every oil.

11. Emu oil and anti-aging

There is no scientific evidence that Emu oil offers superior anti-aging benefits to other oils. Some websites claim that it “erases wrinkles because it reaches the deepest skin layers”. But no matter how deep it penetrates, Emu oil is not known to contain compounds with wrinkle-busting properties. However, as a source of beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants, it is likely to improve the appearance of aging skin.

Just don’t expect miracles. No oil in this world will erase wrinkles. 

If your skin is dry, it is likely that frequent application of Emu oil will make existing wrinkles look less prominent. Just like many oils, it forms a protective barrier on the skin that reduces transepidermal water loss. 

That’s not a unique feature of Emu oil: even the humble Sunflower oil can restore the skin barrier and improve hydration. 

If you only wish to use oils on your face, try cold-pressed Rosehip oil: it contains a small amount of Retinoic acid, an ingredient that’s proven to improve signs of aging. It’s the active ingredient in Retin-a.

12. Emu oil for eczema and psoriasis

The fatty acids and antioxidants in Emu oil may benefit skin that’s prone to eczema or psoriasis. 

In a small study, Emu oil reduced scaling, redness and itching in patients with xerotic eczema and psoriasis. In another study on volunteers with atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, it enhanced the anti-inflammatory effects of topical medications. The medications were Cetirizine and Dexamethasone. 

In a trial, a product with 20% Emu oil improved Seborrhoeic Dermatitis, a type of eczema. It was way less effective than topical corticosteroids, but, on the plus side, it is suitable for long-term use. And it may work synergistically with corticosteroids.

You can’t use Emu oil if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, but I really don’t think you’re missing out. There are plenty of beneficial plant oils and butters, such as Jojoba oil, Sunflower oil and Shea butter. And frankly, as a psoriasis sufferer, I can tell you for a fact that no oil can replace my beloved topical corticosteroids!

13. Is Emu oil good for acne?

There is no proof that Emu oil has benefits for acne-prone skin. In theory, its anti-inflammatory properties may have a positive effect on inflammatory acne. But if you have acne, I’m sure you know that oils are hit-or-miss. What works great for some people, is a recipe for disaster for others. And it’s easy to get carried away by posts such as “This magic ingredient banished my acne”.

14. Does Emu Oil darken or lighten skin?

Some bloggers believe that Emu oil can darken skin but there is barely any research to support these claims. According to a patent that was filed in 1995, Emu oil stimulated melanogenesis in mice. This means that it triggered melanin production. But we don’t know if it can increase pigmentation in humans and, if yes, to what extent. 

A study from 2016 showed the exact opposite: Emu oil reduced melanin production in melanoma cells!

Feeling confused? In my opinion, Emu oil is very unlikely to have a noticeable effect on the colour of your skin. If it could do that, we would know by now, wouldn’t we? And all the big cosmetic companies would have taken notice. 

So, if you’re a fan of Emu oil but you are concerned that it will alter your skin colour, I don’t think you need to worry. 

If you’re after a darker skin tone, I believe that self-tanners are the safest option. Definitely safer than solarium or baking in the sun. But embracing our natural skin colour is not a bad idea either, is it?

15. Recommended Emu oils

I must admit, I would personally never use Emu oil, despite its potential benefits for the skin. The Emus are damn cute and the males are often stay-at-home-dads too. How cool is that?! And there are plenty of plant oils that are just as beneficial. But obviously you don’t need to share my personal convictions, which is why, after long thought, Ι decided to recommend a couple of Emu oils.

If you wish to experiment with Emu oil, it’s better to buy from a reputable seller. I am a personal fan of Iherb because I always receive fresh stock from them. Ok, I am also an affiliate! But some oils may go rancid if not stored properly and sometimes we have no idea how long they’ve been sitting on shelves. Research has indeed shown that improperly stored Emu oil may lose some of its potency. So I think it’s better to buy from sellers that provide fresh stock.

If you buy from one of my affiliate links, you won’t incur any additional charges and I will just earn a very small commission that will help this blog to keep going. 

Leven Rose, 100% Pure & Organic Emu oil

Buy from Iherb

Emu Gold, Fully Refined Emu oil

Buy from Iherb

Buying from Iherb

Iherb ships from the US. So, unless you live in the US, I suggest you keep the cost of your order to a minimum to avoid those dreaded customs charges! Unless you choose shipping with a courier that includes these charges.

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Pegg, Ronald & Amarowicz, Ryszard & Code, William. (2006). Nutritional characteristics of emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) meat and its value-added products. Food Chemistry.

Blekas, G. & Tsimidou, Maria & Boskou, Dimitrios. (2006). Olive Oil Composition

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Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;19(1):70. Published 2017 Dec 27. 

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Zemstov, A., Gaddis, M. and Montalvo‐Lugo, V.M. (1996), Moisturizing and cosmetic properties of emu oil: A pilot double blind study. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 37: 159-162.

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Jeengar, Manish Kumar et al. “Review on Emu Products for Use as Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” Nutrition 31.1 (2014): 21–27. Web.

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Kaki, Shiva Shanker & Ravinder, Thumu & Rao, B & Chakrabarti, Pradosh & Prasad, r b n. (2013). Isolation and Characterization of Oil from Fatty Tissues of Emu Birds Farmed in India. J Lipid Sci Technol (JLST).. 45. 13-19. 

Bennett, Darin & WE, Code & DV, Godin & Cheng, Kimberly. (2008). Comparison of the antioxidant properties of emu oil with other avian oils. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture. 48. 1345-1350. 

Abimosleh, S.M., Tran, C.D. and Howarth, G.S. (2012), Emu Oil: A novel therapeutic for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract?. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 27: 857-861. 

Mastoub, S & Bennett, Darin & Tran, Cuong & Howarth, Gordon. (2015). Processing and storage of ratite oils affects primary oxidation status and radical scavenging ability. Animal Production Science. 55. 1331-1337. 10.1071/AN13556. 

Whitehouse, M.W., Turner, A.G., Davis, C.K.C. et al. Emu oil(s): A source of non-toxic transdermal anti-inflammatory agents in aboriginal medicine. Inflammopharmacol 6, 1–8 (1998).

Attarzadeh Y, Asilian A, Shahmoradi Z, Adibi N. Comparing the efficacy of Emu oil with clotrimazole and hydrocortisone in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis: A clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2013;18(6):477-481.

Patzelt A, Lademann J, Richter H, et al. In vivo investigations on the penetration of various oils and their influence on the skin barrier. Skin Res Technol. 2012;18(3):364-369.

Čižinauskas V, Elie N, Brunelle A, Briedis V. Skin Penetration Enhancement by Natural Oils for Dihydroquercetin Delivery. Molecules. 2017;22(9):1536. Published 2017 Sep 12.

Viljoen, Joe & Cowley, Amé & Preez, Jan & Gerber, Minja & Du Plessis, Jeanetta. (2015). Penetration enhancing effects of selected natural oils utilized in topical dosage forms. Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy. 41. 2045-2054. 10.3109/03639045.2015.1047847.

Mack Correa MC, Mao G, Saad P, Flach CR, Mendelsohn R, Walters RM. Molecular interactions of plant oil components with stratum corneum lipids correlate with clinical measures of skin barrier function. Exp Dermatol. 2014;23(1):39-44.

What’s your experience with Emu oil? Leave a comment below!

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Hi, I’m Tassos and I’m the creator of Skinchat.  Read more.