Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Emu oil

Voyageur has recently started carrying emu oil (INCI Emu Oil), so I thought I'd try it out. So what's the big deal with this oil? It's reported to be a good anti-inflammatory, skin cell regenerator, anti-bacterial, and non-comedogenic oil. Are these claims all true?

Interestingly enough, there haven't been a ton of studies on this oil and those that have been done have mostly been performed on mice. It is anti-inflammatory for mice, but this hasn't been proven for humans.

We do know its fatty acid profile...sort of. There have only been a few studies, and each batch of oil can be vastly different from the last one depending upon the conditions in which the emus lived and ate and how the oil was processed. (These are all mean scores. Some oils may contain different ratios of fatty acids.) It contains about 22% palmitic acid (C16:0), 3.5% palmitoleic acid (C16:1), 9.6% stearic acid (C18:0), 47.4% oleic acid (C18:1), 15.2% linoleic acid (C18:2), and 0.9% linolenic acid (C18:3). Emu oil contains sterols in the form of sitosterol, amongst others, and we know sterols make for good anti-inflammatories, but the amount is quite low - about 750 ppm. Compare this to something like macadamia nut oil with about 1613 ppm or 3270 ppm in soy bean oil and you can see there are oils with higher levels of sterols.

As a note, the sterols in emu oil aren't phytosterols because "phyto" means plant and emu oil is from an animal. 

So what does this mean? Oils containing oleic acid are great for softening skin, regenerating skin cells, moisturizing, and behaving as an anti-inflammatory. Oils containing linoleic acid are good for helping to restore skin's barrier function and reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL), but what does palmitoleic acid do for our skin?

Palmitoleic acid is found in our skin's fatty acid profile and is a building block to prevent burns, wounds, and skin scratches as well as the most active anti-microbial in our sebum. It can be used on our skin to treat damaged skin and annoyed mucous membranes. Studies have shown it can prevent adhesion of Candida albicans (yeast) to pig skin, and one study showed it had the same effect on babies' bottoms! You can find palmitoleic acid in sea buckthorn oil and macadamia nut oil.

Apparently emu oil is non-comedogenic, but I can't find any research to confirm this. It contains a lot of oleic acid, which tends to be more comedogenic than other oils, and it seems like the only people who are touting it as non-comedogenic are on-line retailers who are selling the product. So I can't say whether this is confirmed or not.

Joe Schwarcz notes in his book Dr Joe & What You Didn't Know that emu oil contains terpenes, sapogenins, and flavones, but I wasn't able to find specifics of each of these categories. He notes it is a good emollient and "penetrates skin smoothly". And therein lies the appeal of emu oil.

As a note, I'll be taking a look at saponins, sapogenins, and terpenes over the next few days. 

If you're wanting to make a product with some active ingredients that you want to penetrate the skin, emu oil is a good choice, but then again, it's looking like any oil with oleic acid might work in this fashion. It is not vegan friendly - they don't squeeze the emus for the oil and let them go on their merry ways - and it is an expensive oil, even compared to sea buckthorn oil (which is the most expensive oil I buy).

I bought it specifically to make a pain relieving medication for my aunt, who is struggling with aches and pains right now, and for myself for my on-going exciting muscle spasms. Join me tomorrow for fun formulating with this oil! 


Anonymouse said...

Aren't terpenes only found in plants and a few bugs? Pretty sure it's the same for saponins too. I wouldn't really trust a book that gets something like that wrong.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I've written a post about terpenes - it'll be posted in the near future - with follow up posts on saponins and sapogenins. Terpenes are found as end products in plants and a few bugs, but they are major building blocks in nearly every animal, including us. Steroids are derivatives of the triterpene squalene.

Ullman's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, which notes that squalane is an acylic triterpene on page 2 of the section on terpenes. On page 3 of this book it notes, "Terpenes occur everywhere and in all organisms, in particular in higher plants." It continues, "Animal organisms also contain terpenes and terpenoids, which are predominantly incorporated by the consumption of plants." Refer to page 12 for more information on squalane, where the author notes it is found in shark and cod livers, vegetable oils and fat, and in human fat.

Link to terpenes on Wikipedia.
Link to terpenoids on Wikipedia

Joe Schwarcz is a very well respected author, broadcaster, and professor in Quebec, and I don't believe he got it wrong if you look at the links and quotes above.

sarah said...

I make an emu balm that has had extremely positive reports regarding its pain relieving properties - even from my Dad, who has Rheumatoid and is usually highly skeptical! I have several repeat customers who buy it too. I also make a vegan one with Amazonian Oils, so that may be an idea for animal lovers!
Can't praise Emu Oil highly enough though.

Rose Maria said...

Does emu oil help hair growth ?
aea certified

Lisa Petrowsky said...

Hi Susan, I found your comments about emu oil being different from one batch to another very interesting. I agree that not every bird is raised under the same conditions, but wouldn't that also be true of plant derived oils? Just wondering. I putter around making lotions for the family and like to include emu oil. My main personal use for emu oil is as a bedtime and/or under-makeup moisturizer straight out of the bottle. I do not find it comedogenic on my skin. I also make a non-petroleum jelly butt balm for my grandbabies that contains a lot of emu.

Lisa Petrowsky said...

Hi, I enjoyed your comments about inconsistency between batches because of the variations in environmental conditions of the emu. Wouldn't this also hold true of plant based oils? Anyway, I like emu oil very much. I make a non-petroleum butt balm for my grand babies that contains quite a bit of it. And I also use it straight out of the bottle for a night moisturizer and under my make-up.