The aborigines value emu oil for its various properties. (Photo by Tina Keller)
While the hair growth battle between emu oil and Hair Again® is being fought on my temples and face, I've been trying to find more information about emu oil's hair growth promoting properties.
It seems that the source for the claims is an article by Dr. Michael Holick that appeared in Drug & Cosmetic Industry Magazine in 1996. He apparently conducted a study where either emu oil or corn oil was applied to the backs of shaved mice for two weeks.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the actual article. Neither has anyone else, it seems. There's a wide variety of websites promoting emu oil as a hair loss remedy, but all of them seem to be based on interviews or quotes from Dr. Holick. Here's one that sounds nothing short of astounding:
[With emu oil] over 80% of hair follicles that had been asleep were woken up and began growing hair.
I assume that the above means a quick transition from telogen (resting) phase to anagen (growing) phase, not waking up hair follicles that have not been producing hair for years. Here's another quote:
We found that there was about a 20% increase in DNA synthesis, which means that there was a 20% increase in the proliferative activity, or the growth activity of the skin in the animals that received (a processed emu oil), compared to the animals that received corn oil.
Again, it all looks very good and very simple. But should we believe these rather remarkable claims? Dr. Holick apparently does: Shortly after the article was published, he filed a patent application that claimed emu oil stimulates skin and hair growth. In the lengthy description of the application, a small study on mice is mentioned. I assume this is the same study that the article in the magazine dealt with, but I'm not sure. Here's the text:
Based on the results, emu oil might look like best thing since sliced bread. However, reading the first paragraph puts things into perspective. The study included only five mice, three of which received emu oil. The other two served as the control group. That's hardly a statistically significant sample size.
Adolescent C57 BL/6 mice that were six to eight weeks old with all of their hair follicles arrested in telogen for several weeks were selected. After depilation, three mice received on the nape of the neck topically, 0.1 ml of emu oil and 2 mice received topically 0.1 ml of corn oil in a double-blinded fashion. For the next 19 days, the animals received a single topical application of either emu oil or corn oil.
The photograph of the animals just before sacrifice demonstrated increased pigmentation and hair over the upper back region of the three mice that received emu oil compared to the two mice that received corn oil. A histologic evaluation confirmed the visual observation.
There was a more marked increase in the size and length of the hair follicles and thickness of the skin in the mouse skin that was treated with emu oil when compared to mouse skin treated with corn oil. It can be concluded from these studies that the topical application of emu oil increased the synthesis of DNA in the epidermis which is a measure of increase in the proliferative activity of the epidermis.
The increase in pigmentation and hair in the photograph of animals receiving emu oil demonstrates that the topical application of emu oil can stimulate melanogenesis and hair follicle development and growth. The histological analysis demonstrating an increase in the thickness of the epidermis and size and length of the hair follicle provides strong evidence that the topical application of emu oil stimulates skin growth, hair growth and induces the proliferation of the cells around the hair follicle.
As far as I know, this is the only study that has looked at the hair growth promoting effects of emu oil. The rest of the studies have shown emu oil to be anti-inflammatory and improve wound healing. Based on this, some people have concluded that it must also help with hair growth.
Personally, I don't think the evidence is quite there to reach that conclusion, but I'm certainly hoping that emu oil does work. For now, we'll just have to wait and see how the experiment goes.
For more information on hair growth, see these posts:
Lygodium japonicum Promotes Hair Growth by Inhibiting Testosterone to DHT Conversion
Hair Growth with Vitamin E Tocotrienols from Palm Oil - Experiment Conclusion
Topical Ketoconazole (Nizoral) Increases Hair Growth in Mice
Hyaluronic Acid for Skin & Hair - Experiment Begins