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Moisturizing and Cosmetic Properties of Emu Oil: A
Double Blind Study
Alexander Zemtsov, Indiana University School of Medicine: Dr. Monica
Gaddis, Ball Memorial Hospital; and Dr. Victor Montalvo-Lugo, Ball
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
multi-million 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(1) 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 pharmaceutical preparations.
11 subjects were recruited and completed the study (9 women and 2
men). 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-The oil's ranking by the participants of the study
||Statistically Significant Difference
|Overall Ranking of the Oil
Fatty acid analysis by gas chromatograph 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 2weeks 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, irritancy, etc.)
The data generated was in a created ranking scale format [O (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= II) 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 I I 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 (O%, 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 II-The ranking and side
the 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, cosmetically pleasing texture, and
low incidence of cosmedogenicity. 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
bioavailability. 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 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 Europe(4.5).
Unfortunately because of high cost and other technical problems
neither liposome or iontophorisis are now widely used in either cosmetic
or dermatological topical preparationsl(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
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 slowing 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
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
- 3 - Singh J, Mabach HI. Topical Iontophoretic Drug
Delivery in vivo: Historical Development, Devices, and Future Respectives
Dermatolocry 1993; 187:235-238.
- 4 - Korting HC, Blechek P, Schaefer-Korting M,
Wendel A. Topical liposome drugs to come: What the patent literature
tells us. A review. J Am Academy of Dermatology 1991; 15:1068-1071.
- 5 - Schaefer-Korting M, Korting HC, BraunFalco 0.
Liposome Preparations; A Step forward in topical drug therapy for
skin disease: A Review. J Am Academy of Dermatology 1989;
- 6 - Wester RC, Maibach HI. Dermatopharmokinetics
in clinical Dermatology. Semin Dermatol 1983; 2:81-84.
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Alexander Zemtsov, M.D., M.S.
Ball Memorial Hospita
2401 University Ave.
Muncie, IN 47303-3499
Phone: (317) 747-8458 or (317) 741-1975. Fax (317) 747-8459.
This work was supported by a grant from the American Emu Association,
Reprinted from the October/November 1994 issue of the AEA News.
The published erratum appears in Australas J Dermatol 1997 May;38(2):104