Emu oil — a scam?
Emu oil is the rendered fat of the emu, a large bird native to Australia but which is now being raised in North America. It’s commonly sold in pharmacies and health food stores and is intended both for topical use and, when in capsule form, as a nutritional supplement.
I first heard of it when an employee in a shoe store recommended it for treating foot calluses. Proponents claim that, applied topically, it is good for everything from healing severe burns to reversing hair loss to relieving joint pain due to arthritis.
I’ve been using the stuff on and off for the last couple of years to treat an inflammatory skin condition. While it works as advertised (i.e., reduces inflammation, moisturizes the skin, and promotes healing), I find myself wondering if, at almost $30 for a 2 ounce bottle, it really does anything that rubbing lard, tallow, duck or chicken fat, or even butter on the skin wouldn’t do just as well.
What properties, if any, does emu oil have that these other, less expensive fats don’t? There’s a paucity of information on the web, and almost all of it appears to be marketing hype from companies selling the oil.
Some sites claim that emu oil is high in Vitamin E, but even if true, one has to wonder how much of the vitamin survives the rendering process to wind up in the final product that’s found on store shelves. Besides, expeller-pressed wheat germ oil contains an enormous amount of Vitamin E and costs considerably less than emu oil, so if you’re looking for a natural source of Vitamin E, wheat germ oil might be a better, more economical choice.
Other sites make a big deal of the fact that emu oil contains linolenic, linoleic, and oleic fatty acids. While these are undoubtedly good for the skin, there is nothing exceptional about oleic or linoleic acid; they are found in all oils and fats. There’s more oleic acid in olive oil than there is in emu oil. According to one chart I’ve seen, emu oil appears to have a higher than average linolenic acid (Omega 3) content, but what evidence is there that this is of any great benefit for the skin? If Omega 3 fatty acids are valuable for skin health, walnut oil and wheat germ oil also contain a fair amount of them, and are much less expensive.
Are consumers being cheated by paying $15 an ounce for a product that isn’t any better than the fat left in the roasting pan after cooking a chicken?