Q: Can emu oil help treat eczema, psoriasis, and other skin problems, as marketers claim?
A: Possibly, though any benefit, if there is one, may simply be due to the oil’s moisturizing effect, similar to that of other oils. Emu oil is obtained from the fat of a large flightless bird, native to Australia, that is farm-raised for its meat, leather, and eggs.
Used topically, the oil is touted as a treatment for inflammatory skin conditions, as well as dandruff, acne, scarring, burns, aging skin, athlete’s foot, and more. Marketers also advise rubbing it on joints to ease arthritis pain and on the scalp to stop hair loss. You name it, emu oil supposedly treats it. Often the oil is combined in creams with other ingredients, such as grapefruit seed, comfrey root, evening primrose oil, aloe vera, glucosamine, and vitamin C.
The aboriginal people of Australia have long used emu oil to protect against sun damage and to treat inflammation, wounds, and musculoskeletal pain. Lab research, mostly in rats, has found that it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and wound-healing properties.
But published studies in people are scant. In one from Iran in 2013, emu oil significantly improved redness, itching, and scaling in people with seborrheic dermatitis after one month of use—though not as well as standard topical medications (clotrimazole and hydrocortisone) for some symptoms. And in a pilot study from Indiana University of people with psoriasis or dermatitis, an emu-oil based cream that contained both an antihistamine and a steroid was rated more effective than the same drugs in a different base—though the investigators knew which cream the patients got, which could bias the results.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which evaluates alternative and complementary therapies, there is insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of emu oil for any purpose.
What to do: If you have a skin condition such as seborrheic dermatitis that has not responded well to other remedies, ask your dermatologist if a topical emu oil product would be okay to try, perhaps in combination with standard medication (if you don’t mind that it is expensive and is an animal product). But watch out for other ingredients in the creams, which could potentially exacerbate your condition. Forget about all other proposed medicinal uses of topical emu oil. There’s no evidence that ingesting the oil in capsules has benefits either.