8 Surprising Benefits of Snake Oil

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Snake oil has some impressive health benefits. This may include soothing arthritic pain, improving skin health, boosting the immune system, protecting heart health, reducing irritation on the skin, increasing cognitive function, balancing mood and strengthening the hair.

There are a few mild side effects, but these are primarily caused by allergic reactions, excessive use of the oil, or poor-quality ingredients in this natural remedy. Due to the controversial history and reputation of this oil, it is important to always secure your snake oil from a reputable source to ensure that you are getting an unadulterated and safe variety of this oil.

Snake oil is derived from the fat of the Chinese water snake, although there are other snake oils made from boa constrictors, sea snakes, and other species. This fat is processed and refined into a concentrated oil that possesses high levels of an omega-3 fatty acid named eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which has been directly linked to a number of benefits for human health.

The term “snake oil” has been used for centuries to describe fraudulent medical remedies, and has been associated with quackery and fake therapeutic value. In the past, this term may have been accurate, but as it turns out, snake oil does have measurable health effects, provided you are using a legitimate product with oil that is actually derived from snakes. The fatty acid content in real snake oil can be used topically to treat a number of conditions, and should be separated from the fraudulent variety of this oil that history has remembered in such a negative light! [1]

Benefits of Snake Oil

People commonly may use snake oil when they are suffering from joint pain and arthritis, topical inflammation, a weak immune system,  cognitive impairment, stress, anxiety, split ends, dandruff, hair loss, and chronic pain.

May Reduce Inflammation

Traditionally, snake oil may have been most popularly used as a topical salve for inflammatory conditions, such as joint pain, arthritis, gout, muscle aches and a number of other chronic conditions. Studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids found in snake oil can indeed loosen up stiff joints and relieve inflammation in various parts of the body. [2]

Can Be Used To Relieve Pain

In conjunction with eliminating inflammation, snake oil might also possess analgesic properties, which makes it a popular remedy following an injury or surgery, or during a chronic illness that may cause constant or persistent pain. Again, in topical use, this oil can also speed up healing of painful wounds and injuries. [3]

Close up of a bottle of snake oil on a wooden table

Snake oil is made from the oil of the Chinese water snake. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Can Help To Boost Heart Health

Contrary to what many people believe, not all fats are bad for you, as is the case with the omega-3 fatty acid found in snake oil – eicosapentaenoic acid. This polyunsaturated fat has been linked to lower blood pressure levels, which might help reduce strain on the cardiovascular system. [4]

Might Aid In Skin Care

When it comes to protecting the skin, snake oil might be highly effective as it can moisturize, shield and treat the skin in various ways. Whether your skin is peeling, cracking, dry or inflamed due to infection or irritant, applying a small amount of this oil, commonly combined with other carrier oils, can soothe inflammation and promote healthier, younger-looking skin. [5]

Can Be Used For Hair Care

Although research on this effect is limited, the traditional use of snake oil may include massaging small amounts into the scalp in order to prevent hair loss. It is believed that the omega-3 fatty acids and other active compounds in the oil can moisturize the skin and improve the health of the hair follicles, thus preventing premature hair loss! [6]

May Boost Immune System

The protective compounds found in snake oil are not generally known as being antibacterial or antiviral, but they do function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances that may reduce strain on the immune system, meaning that they can act as a tonic for overall health. [7]

Might Help Improve Cognitive Function

The active ingredient in snake oil, eicosapentaenoic acid, has been linked to improved cognitive abilities and a decrease in neurodegenerative and nerve disorders. More research is needed on this subject, but early results are very encouraging. [8]

Can Help Improve Mood

The anti-inflammatory and soothing nature of this oil is also believed to affect hormonal balance, anxiety, and mood. If you find yourself worried or angry without a good explanation, rub a small amount of snake oil on your temples, or apply it to your chest as a vapor rub, and feel your mood improve. [9]

Side Effects of Snake Oil

There are a few side effects of snake oil, such as inflammation of the skin, allergic reactions, and gastrointestinal distress, but these are mainly caused by improper consumption of the oil or the use of low-quality oil. Despite the historical connotation of “snake oil”, there are many legitimate forms of true snake oil that can provide health benefits. Doing research on the particular ingredients and sources of this oil is essential if you want it to be effective.

  • Allergic Reactions – Some people have an immediate allergy to snake oil, resulting in gastric distress, nausea, vomiting, bloating and cramping. If you experience this or any other allergic reaction, such as swelling of the throat or lips, difficulty breathing, or tightness in the chest, discontinue use immediately.
  • Additional Ingredients – Selling legitimate snake oil is a successful business in certain parts of the world, which often leads to less honest or honorable manufacturers mimicking this oil without any of the active ingredients from actual snakes. These additional chemicals or compounds may cause the oil to be ineffective, or result in unpredictable side effects.
  • Skin Inflammation – When topically applying a potent oil, there is a chance that it will cause skin inflammation, redness, itching or swelling. Before using a large amount of snake oil on the skin, put a few drops on a patch of skin and see if there is any negative reaction in a few hours’ time.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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