Reprinted from the
Moisturizing and Cosmetic
of Emu Oil: A Double Blind Study
Cosmetic and moisturizing properties of emu oil
were 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. Finally emu oil
fatty acid composition was studied by gas chromatography and was
found to have a high concentration of non polar monounsaturated
fatty acids which may explain emu oil's ability to penetrate easily
through the stratum corneum barrier.
The emu, a large, flightless bird, Dromaius nova
hollandiae, is probably best known for being on Australia's
coat-of-arms opposite the kangaroo. In the past few years commercial
emu breeding has become a multimillion dollar industry in the United
States, Australia, and other countries. Emu oil derived from emu fat
was being used by the Aborigines for healing and pain control long
before British ships landed on the eastern shores of Australia.
A number of Australian investigators (George Hobday,
M.D., a dermatologist and Peter Ghosh, Ph.D., FRSC at the University
of Sydney) claimed that emu oil has anti-inflammatory and skin
penetrating properties. Recently the Australian Department of Health
classified emu oil as a pharmaceutical product(l) and registered emu
oil in the Therapeutic Goods Registry.(2) Finally an official
Australian government publication stated "the oil (emu) will find
uses in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries". We performed an
extensive literature search (Medline, Index Medicus) and could not
find a single report in scientific peer reviewed literature dealing
with either emu oil and its cosmetic pharmaceutical properties or
its composition. A pilot double blind study was conducted to assess
cosmetic properties of emu oil, namely its moisturizing and skin
penetrating properties, texture and odor, and irritancy and
comedogenicity potential. The emu oil was compared in this study to
mineral oil, a synthetic oil that is widely used in the United
States as an emulsifier and lubricant in topical cosmetical and
11 subjects were recruited and completed the study (9 women and 2
men). The mean age was 35 years (age range 25-52, median age 34). 10
subjects were white Caucasian and one subject was Hispanic. All had
Fitzpatrick skin type 2 or 3 based on history of response to UV
radiation. All had healthy skin and people with eczema and acne were
specifically excluded from this study. Since both emu and mineral
oil can be purchased in the United States over the counter, no human
subject research permit was required or issued by the Texas Tech
Human Subject Institutional Review Board.
Emu oil for clinical study was imported from Australia (Emu Vertica,
Thalgo Holdings Pty. Ltd.). Both Australian emu and mineral oil were
placed in dark numbered bottles by a pharmacist (Caprock Drugs,
Lubbock, TX). Neither human subjects or principal investigator knew
which oil each subject was using at what particular time. The code
was not broken until all volunteers completed the study and returned
the questionnaire to the principal investigators.
TABLE 1 -
ranking by participants of the study
of the oil
Fatty acid analysis by gas chromatography was performed by Dr.
Margaret Craig-Schmidt's laboratory of Auburn University and the
results were reported in the AEA News September, 1994.
Prior to entering the study each subject was examined by a
university based dermatologist to make sure that none of the
volunteers had eczema or acne. The volunteers were instructed to use
the first oil on their face and trunk twice a day for 2 weeks. The
human subjects were told to discontinue use of any other lubricants.
After 2 weeks of oil use, the human subjects were briefly examined
by the principal investigators for signs of skin irritation or acne
and at that time were given a second oil. The pharmacist made sure
that each subject received both emu and mineral oil. At the end of
the study each subject completed the questionnaire and ranked on a 0
to 5 scale (5 excellent; 0 poor) how much they liked each oil. They
were also asked to rank its penetration/permeability, moisturizing
properties, texture, and any side effects (comedogenicity, odor,
The data generated was in a created ranking scale format [0 (poor);
5 (excellent)] and was analyzed by a biostatistician utilizing the
Wilcoxan Signed Rank test.
As shown in Table 1, the emu oil overall ranking and
permeability was found to be clearly superior to mineral oil. These
differences in skin penetration/permeability and overall ranking
were statistically significant . The sample size in this study was
small (n= 11) and it is very possible that if more people
participated in the study the clear cut statistical differences in
the oils texture and moisturizing properties would have been found.
When the participants in this study were asked which
of the two oils they liked better, all 11 subjects (100%) stated
that they liked emu oil better (Table II). Neither emu oil or
mineral oil was found to be irritating to the skin (0%, Table II).
Finally, when the oils were applied to the face, 6 people (55%) and
2 people (18%) reported the mineral and emu oil respectively caused
11 pimples, (Table II)
TABLE 2 -
and side effects by Participants of the study
This pilot, a double blind crossover study, clearly
indicated that emu oil may become widely used in cosmetic and
pharmaceutical industries. We found emu oil to be totally
non-irritating, having excellent moisturizing properties, a
cosmetically pleasing texture, and a low incidence of comedogenicity.
The most intriguing property of emu oil as far as cosmetic and
pharmaceutical industries are concerned is its apparent ability to
penetrate the stratum corneum barrier. The study of penetration of
various substances through the skin is an area of an active research
and is obviously important from the therapeutics and toxicological
viewpoints. Iontophorisis(3) and liposome preparations(4,5)
are actively studied as a means to increase cutaneous bioavailablity.
Since most topical vehicles have an absorption rate of only a few
percent(6), the drugs and other active ingredients combined ,with
more efficient drug carrier systems are of major interest to
cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. As a matter of fact,
liposome preparation containing the anti-fungal agent econazole (econazole
1%; pevaryl; cilag- Schafflausen, Switzerland) and cosmetics with a
liposene base are now available in the United States and Western
Unfortunately because of high cost and other
technical problems neither liposome or iontophorisis are now widely
used in either cosmetic or dermatological topical preparations(3,6).
If indeed, as we report in this paper, emu oil has superb skin
penetrating properties, as judged subjectively by participants in
this study, and because of relatively low cost, emu oil should be of
major interest to dermatologists and cosmetic scientists as a
transcutaneous carrier system. It would not be unreasonable to try
to combine emu oil with topical antifungals, steroids, retinoids,
antihistamines, anesthetics, antiangrogen, and immunosuppressive
drugs to see if emu oil improves cutaneous bioavailability.
Even prior to completion of this study a number of
investigators became aware of apparent penetrating properties of emu
oil. As was noted in the methods section of this article, the
composition of emu oil was studied by Dr. Craig-Schmidt utilizing
gas chromatography. The findings were that emu oil is predominately
composed of short chain monounsaturated fatty acids allowing it to
easily penetrate the stratum comeum. Another investigator utilizing
thin layer chromatography (TLC) found that emu oil is essentially
free of phospholipids thus enabling it to penetrate readily through
skin (Allen Strickland, personal communication).
We believe that this apparently first scientifically
conducted study addressing cosmetic and pharmaceutical properties of
emu oil is very promising. We are in the process of organizing in
the United States a much larger multicenter similar double blind
study to confirm our findings. Furthermore, Dr. Craig-Schmidt's
research group is in the process of conducting in-vitro
transmembraneous skin penetration studies with emu oil to determine
its transcutancous permeability. We hope that this and the future
study mentioned above will fully assess the cosmetic, moisturizing,
and pharmaceutical properties of emu oil.
1. Commonwealth of Australia,
Department of Health, Housing, and Community Services,
Certificate of a pharmaceutical Product No. 92/0980.
2. AUST R 22759 in the Australian
Register of Therapeutical Goods.
3. Singh J, Mabach HI. Topical
Iontophoretic Drug Delivery in vivo: Historical Development,
Devices, and Future Respectives. Dermatology 1993; 187:235-238.
4. Korting HC, Blechek P, Schaefer-Korting
M, Wendel A. Topical lipsome drugs to come: What the patent
literature tells us. A review. J Am Academyh of Dermatology 1991;
5. Schaefer-Korting M, Korting HC,
BraunFalco O. Liposome preparations; A Step forward in topical drug
therapy for skin disease: A Review. J Am Academy of Dermatology
6. Wester RC, Maibach HI.
Dermatopharmokinetics in clinical Dermatology. Semin Dermatol 1983;
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Alexander Zemtsov, M.D., M.S.
Ball Memorial Hospital
2401 University Ave.
Muncie, IN 47303-3499
Phone: (317) 747-8458 or (317)
741-1975. Fax: (317) 747-8459.
work was supported by a grant from the
Association, San Angelo, TX