In traditional Australian lore, many mystical attributes have been associated with emu oil, including the ability to heal wounds and relieve pain. But recently, there has there been a surge in research focus from scientific circles concerning the therapeutic properties of emu oil; especially relating to hair loss. There have also been increasing number of patents for therapeutic application of emu oil (Holick, 1998; Fein et al., 1995).
Emu oil contains a lot of beneficial fatty acids such as oleic acids (a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid). It has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to inhibit TNF-α, a key inhibitory cytokine involved in male pattern balding.
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence showcasing the ability of emu oil to reduce pain, swelling, stiffness in joints, bruising and other sports-related injuries as well; this has been supported by studies done on rats and mice proving emu oil does have anti-inflammatory agents when applied dermally (Yoganathan et al., 2003; Whitehouse et al., 1998). This anti-inflammatory property is strongly associated with wound healing; wounds (particularly burn wounds) have their healing period accelerated after exposure to emu oil. A study has been done showing emu oil lotion decreasing time taken for wounds to heal(Politis & Dmytrowich, 1998).
Another key property of emu oil is that it is non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores). It has a remarkable ability to penetrate the skin (specifically the stratum corneum barrier in the skin) and could potentially act as a transporting agent to help deliver products into the body through the skin. Mineral oil, a current popular carrier oil in cosmetics has been shown to induce pimple formations on skin after applying; emu oil doesn’t as it is highly similar in composition with the skin and hence is highly compatible with our epidermal surface.
Also, emu oil is a good emulsifier. It doesn’t feel oily and is absorbed well into the skin; this is why traditional methods of using emu oil simply involve slathering it on the skin. When converted into cream form emu oil products can be suitable for people who need a non-oily cream for their sensitive skin. Besides that, it is bacteriostatic as the polyunsaturated fats contained in it reduce oxidation and rancidity, ensuring products made from emu oil has a long shelf life and in its pure state prevents the growth of bacterial organisms.
Lastly emu oil is a good moisturiser as it increases the water absorption ability of skin, enabling the skin to retain a youthful appearance which has led to claims of it having anti-aging properties. A double blind study using corn oil as control, found that emu oil stimulated inactive hair follicles to re-activate, making hair follicles more robust and increasing skin thickness and exhibited superior results compared to mineral oil(Zemstov, Gaddis & Montalvo‐Lugo, 1996).
In conclusion, although many claims of the miraculous healing properties of emu oil are likely overblown, it does have several key properties that have been scientifically proven to aid in combating hair loss.
- Fein, E., Caputo, J., Nagal, A. K. & Nagal, K. (1995) Therapeutic Uses of Emu Oil.
- Holick, M. F. (1998) Use of Emu Oil for Stimulating Skin and Hair Growth.
- Politis, M. J. & Dmytrowich, A. (1998) Promotion of second intention wound healing by emu oil lotion: comparative results with furasin, polysporin, and cortisone. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 102 (7), 2404-2407.
- Whitehouse, M., Turner, A., Davis, C. & Roberts, M. (1998) Emu oil (s): a source of non-toxic transdermal anti-inflammatory agents in aboriginal medicine. Inflammopharmacology. 6 (1), 1-8.
- Yoganathan, S., Nicolosi, R., Wilson, T., Handelman, G., Scollin, P., Tao, R., Binford, P. & Orthoefer, F. (2003) Antagonism of croton oil inflammation by topical emu oil in CD-1 mice. Lipids. 38 (6), 603-607.
- Zemstov, A., Gaddis, M. & Montalvo‐Lugo, V. M. (1996) Moisturizing and cosmetic properties of emu oil: a pilot double blind study. Australasian Journal of Dermatology. 37 (3), 159-162.