Adding exotic and luxurious ingredients is part of the magic of handcrafting "one of a kind" specialty soaps. We're seeking that ultimate bathing/washing experience--great smell, great feel, and clean, happy skin! Emu oil is discussed frequently as one of those unique ingredients that makes soaps extra special. So, "what's the big deal with emu oil?" you might ask (if you've never tried it!). 

A Vogue Magazine article in September, 1996*, said this about emu oil: "...emu oil is emerging as the world's next cosmetic rage. 'I think it will be another aloe vera,' says Mark Potter chemist at Donna Karan Beauty Company, the first American group to use the ingredient in commercial beauty products. 'It's really the ideal oil.' 

Non-comedogenic and an anti-irritant, emu oil is touted as a powerful moisturizer that penetrates deeply into the skin. 'We believe emu oil's fatty acids actually mirror what's found in the skin's top layer, so it readily accepts the oil' says John Caputo, chairman and CEO of New World Technology, which produces emu oil under the name Kalaya Oil. Studies done at Boston University have shown that emu oil may actually stimulate skin-cell regeneration and help to reduce wrinkles and sagging. The emu craze is spreading beyond cosmetics as die-hard fans claim the oil takes care of everything from eczema to burns to join pain--telltale signs of a household name in the making." 

For cosmetic use emu oil has many beneficial features:  

  • very emollient, rich moisturizer
  • penetrating (making it a good transdermal carrier for other ingredients)
  • non-comedogenic (doesn't clog pores)
  • non-irritating and hypo-allergenic (very few allergeric reactions)
  • helps restore skin cells (both skin and hair cells appear to be stimulated by emu oil)
  • emulsifies easily with other ingredients
  • rich in essential fatty acids
Several companies, including Donna Karan and JC Penney, include emu oil in a variety of cosmetic products--lotions, creams, anti-aging products, shampoos, conditioners--and of course, soap! 

For therapeutic use, topically applied emu oil appears to have anti-inflammatory properties, so it is used to relieve such conditions as arthritis, muscle strain, joint pain, sprains, bruises, etc.. Because of its apparent ability to help skin cells to restore, many people use the oil on chronic skin and scalp conditions. 

Mark Potter is president of Atlantis Labs and Stephen Marcus Manufacturing,companies that make a variety of products with emu oil. He reports, "We choose emu oil for the main ingredient in our products because the oilfeeds the skin as a nutritional supplement, and therefore helps it to rejuvenate.Our tests have shown that emu oil provides the skin with essential fattyacids which help the skin respond to healing." 

Texas Tech University School of Medicine is conducting 
an emu oil study, with excellent results, using emu oil on burn patients. Pain relief, reduced inflammation, reduced scarring, and improved healing are what they report. They are so pleased with the results they have extended the study for another year. 

Emu oil is proving very beneficial for use on the elderly, helping with thinning skin, bed sores, and arthritis. Massage therapists and chiropractors use emu oil, reporting it seems to help their adjustments last longer. Sports trainers use emu oil on professional players' injuries to reduce inflammation and pain. Veterinarians report successful wound and trauma treatment with emu oil, and use it as a carrier for topically applied ingredients. 

Houston dermatologist, Esta Kronberg, prescribes emu 
oil for many of her patients' conditions. She says, "A lot of times an emu oil product is my first choice, even though I can choose any prescription that I wish, and the irony is the emu oil works so well." 

Alabama Pharmacist Alan Strickland has created many 
emu oil formulations. He tells us, "When formulating with emu oil keep in mind that the oil by itself is value one, and when you put it with other active ingredients, the value increases to not two, but four. Pharmacists call that a synergistic effect. It works. Choose any (OTC) product on the market, and I can take that same exact formula and add emu oil to it.  The product ingredients, with emu oil added, often work better, which I've proven over and over again." 

There is a list of over 100 conditions for which people successfully use emu oil--from arthritis to diaper rash to hemorrhoids to shingles. A large number of commercial and home made therapeutic products incorporate emu oil into their formulations. 

So how does emu oil work in soap?

Our soap customers, as well as soap makers who use emu oil, comment that soap with emu oil has a creamy rich feel, and leaves the skin feeling very smooth, soft and supple. 

As a soap component, emu oil adds hardness and stable lathering. Although it's hard to validate, we think the oil's emollient properties enhance the finished soap product. Any amount can be used in soap (100% makes a hard white bar, with mild creamy lather), but because it is a more costly oil it is perhaps best added as a luxury super-fatting agent. Using 2-3% of the fats as emu oil, would enhance almost any existing soap recipe. For even more luxury and benefits, adding emu oil as 10-20% of the total oils makes exceptional bar of soap. More than 25% emu oil is not necessary, in our opinion. 

Emu oil incorporates easily into soap blends, adding no unusual behavior to the soap making process. Physically, emu oil appears creamy white/off-white, and is semi-liquid (pourable) at room temperature. At higher temps it melts to a clear oil, and at cooler temperatures it solidifies. Properly processed, emu oil is shelf stable for several months, especially longer if kept cool, with minimum exposure to air, heat, and water (which ultimately degrade all organic oils). 

Soap Making Properties of Emu Oil**

 SAP VALUE: 180-200 (to be safe use 190-195, which converts to 0.139 on some popular soap making calculator spreadsheets) 

  • Fatty Acid Composition of EMU OIL: 
    • OLEIC 45-50% ~ Contributes to cleansing & skin conditioning 
    • PALMITIC 22-25% ~ Contributes hard bar, stable lather 
    • STEARIC 8-10% ~ Contributes to hard bar, stable lather LINOLEIC 6-10% ~ Contributes to cleansing, conditioning 
  • Less than 5% Free Fatty Acids 
  • Iodine Value 50-80. A low iodine value = harder soap (for example coconut oil = 10.4; beef tallow = 50; Kukui nut = 165) 
Many soap crafters also add emu oil as a luxury emollient to melt and pour soaps. We have not experimented with this, but hear that it works well by adding 1/2 oz. to 1 oz. emu oil to the melted soap before molding, and blending it in well. Success may depend on the formulation of the particular soap base that you use. Try it out with a small test batch first. 
How to select emu oil
For incorporating emu oil into toiletries and things like balms, salves, and creams, please use only a top grade fully refined or "finished" oil. You want the purest, cleanest oil possible for any topical use, including applying it "neat". Be sure your supplier complies with American Emu Oil standards for processing the oil, and uses proven gentle methods that preserve the oil's activity. 

It's possible to use lesser grade "crude" oils in soaps because the saponification process will kill any possible residual bacteria. In either case, it's wise to know your emu oil vendor and get product that is trusted. When in doubt purchase a small sample to test before making any larger investment. Even crude oils can vary a lot in quality, some having an unpleasant odor, and very short shelf life. 

Where does emu oil come from?
The aboriginal people in Australia have used oil from the emu for thousands of years to treat many ailments, and heal and condition their skin. Emu, native to Australia, are large prehistoric looking flightless birds (cousins to the ostrich). They are actually evolutionary survivors from the dinosaur age! Emu have been raised domestically, in the U.S. and elsewhere, since the 1980's, primarily for meat, and the oil which is rendered from the bird's fat. Emu is a healthy alternative red meat, very low in cholesterol and fat (less than 2 grams per 3.5 oz. serving), and is high in iron and protein. Many ranches and farms in the US now raise emu as an alternative livestock, hoping to stimulate a healthier family farm economy. Several emu can be raised on small acreage in a sustainable manner with minimal impact on the land. 

*Weintraub, Anne. "Beauty Phenomenon." Vogue (Sept. 1996): 550. 

**Soap characteristics of various components are 
identified from books by Susan Miller Cavitch: The  
Soapmaker's Companion, and The Natural Soap Book. 

About the author
Deena Gentle makes soap and raises emu on a small farm in the hidden valley region of SW Wisconsin. Deena and her husband Avery moved to their 50 acres of hilly pastures and woods five years ago, to begin *life after 50*, and soon found themselves immersed in the new frontier of raising emu. As a way to introduce family and friends to emu oil, Deena began making soap for gifts and personal use. She found help and support for her new "hobby" on the Internet, through hand crafted soap mailing lists, and by visiting websites. With lots of practice, the soap got improved, and demand increased for Gentle Emu Oil Soap, as well as Gentle Emu Oil. A business making soap began to emerge. Deena attended the first national Small Soap Makers Gathering in 1997 at Barbara Bobo's Woodspirits soapworks and farm, and came home even more enthusiastic about her growing soap business. Deena appreciates the generous spirit of sharing resources and networking among the soap makers she's met, and was pleased to become a charter member in the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild in 1998.   

More in depth information on the benefits and uses of   
emu oil - including recipes - can be found at Gentle's   



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