The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae
) is a large, flightless bird indigenous to Australia. The oil contains several fatty acids, including myristic, palmitic, oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids. Emu oil has become an important component of the Australian economy. As a result there is research from that part of the world showing it to be a good emollient that can help heal skin. But along with the evidence that emu oil is a good emollient and the parade of companies promoting it for that, there are also companies promoting products containing emu oil for its antiaging, anti-wrinkle, and wound-healing properties.
So does emu oil live up to these acclaimed properties? Regrettably, none of these promises are supported by research. A study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology (August 1996, pages 159–161), looked at the "Cosmetic and moisturizing properties of Emu oil... assessed in a double-blind clinical study. Emu oil in comparison to mineral oil was found overall to be more cosmetically acceptable and had better skin penetration/permeability. Furthermore it appears that emu oil in comparison to mineral oil has better moisturizing properties, superior texture, and lower incidence of comedogenicity, but probably because of the small sample size these differences were not found to be statistically significant. Neither of the oils were found to be irritating to the skin." That's good, but it's hardly a reason to run out and by a product containing emu oil.
Another study, published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (December 1998, pages 2404–2407), concluded that applying emu oil on a fresh wound actually delayed wound healing, which is not a good thing. On the other hand, a more recent study compared the anti-inflammatory ability of emu oil with several other oils, including olive and flaxseed. The oils were applied to mouse ears after their skin was irritated with a volatile oil, and cellular irritant response was measured several hours later. The results showed emu oil had somewhat better anti-inflammatory properties than the other oils in the study, though not by a substantial margin compared to more readily available oils, including olive (Source: Lipids, June 2003, pages 603-607). Reducing inflammation is a valid reason to consider emu oil, but other oils (and several antioxidants) perform the same function. Moreover, none of this means emu oil is the answer for aging or wrinkled skin. Like many ingredients, it has soothing, emollient properties, but it isn’t the miracle marketers make it out to be. Emu oil's reputation is driven mostly by claims made by companies selling products that contain it, and not by any real proof that it is an essential requirement for skin.