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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Some Notes About Emu Oil


As frequent visitors to this blog would already know, I have something of a long history in the exploration of natural oils for use upon the skin. Virtually all such oils you can buy which have notable skin benefits, such as coconut and jojoba oils, are plant-sourced. This makes emu oil something of an anomaly, as it's an animal oil -- derived, of course, from the emu, a large, flightless bird originally of Australian origin. That being the case, there will be those who would object to using an animal-sourced oil, which is certainly their prerogative. But for many who have used emu oil, they do so because it seems to have certain properties unlike anything else out there.

Back around 15 years ago, when emu oil was a "buzz word" in the natural health community, I personally visited an emu farm in Somerset County here in my home state of Pennsylvania. The owner walked me around and showed me his emus in their enclosures as we talked about the myriad benefits of emu oil. His very impressive birds seemed quite healthy, and really, quite dinosaur-like to me; I recall one of them "grunted," as a strange sort of vocalization. The emu farmer with whom I talked seemed fully committed to his occupation, was always concerned about the welfare of his birds and believed unequivocally in the tremendous power of emu oil.

Emu oil is claimed to be "non-greasy," yet I've not quite found this to be the case. In all fairness, however, an oil is an oil...and oil is, well, greasy to some degree or other. I think the key to avoiding greasiness with emu oil is to use it very sparingly. Emu oil is promoted as odorless, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic (i.e., does not clog pores), all of which I have indeed found accurate in my experimental use of the product. Actual published research has shown emu oil can thicken the skin, which reduces the appearance of aging. Allegedly up to a 50% increase in skin thickness can be achieved by the regular application of emu oil, and it also tends to increase the thickness of hair shafts as well. Topical application of emu oil can deliver its nutrients deep into the skin to support healthy cell growth, and it's also an excellent emulsifier, meaning it can be blended with other ingredients easily for enhanced benefits. The man at the emu farm I visited was doing well selling emu oil with rosemary oil added (which itself has an astounding number of skin benefits).

There have been some clinical studies which have shown that two major properties of emu oil are its ability to penetrate the skin and its anti-inflammatory properties. Predominantly, the most active constituents in emu oil are oleic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid (like what is found in fish oil), linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, which has been shown to ease muscle and joint pain, and gammolenic acid. This trio amounts to a fatty acid profile that is highly similar to that naturally found in the sebum of humans, which may well explain why emu oil seems so readily accepted by the human skin. 

I'd say there's a fair chance you've heard of Super Blue Stuff, which contains emu oil and is claimed to be very effective as a topical remedy for joint pain. There are some indications that emu oil may substantially reduce the pain caused by arthritis. Remarkably enough, the potency of the anti-inflammatory effect from emu oil is reportedly similar to ibuprofen but without its negative side effects. The indigenous people of Australia, the Aborigines, have used emu oil for its healing and restorative effects, particularly with regard to joint pain. They also value it highly for its use on wounds and burns. It demonstrates antibacterial properties and, anecdotally, its use on wounds is reported to significantly nullify scarring which may have otherwise resulted.

Among the numerous controversies surrounding emu oil is whether unrefined emu oil is superior to refined, or vice versa. The refining process does remove impurities, but it appears the best refining is done very gently and at low temperature, so as not to destroy the oil's crucial fatty acid profile.

Again, many natural health enthusiasts may have their qualms about using an animal-based oil instead of those sourced purely from plants. This disinclination is to be fully respected, and hopefully a plant-based oil will eventually be discovered which yields similar potentials to emu oil, a prospect which I would consider far from impossible given the vastness of Nature's wealth.

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