Shea butter is a natural vegetable fat that comes from processing nuts from the shea tree. In addition to being suitable for cooking, it may be beneficial for the hair and skin.
According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports, some of the main applications of shea butter are:
- hair treatment products
- anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams
- moisturizing creams for the body and face
- after-sun products
- hair treatments for a dry scalp
This is due to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.
A person can purchase a variety of moisturizing products that contain shea butter.
Alternatively, a person can apply raw, unrefined shea butter directly to the skin until it is completely absorbed.
A person can also:
- use it as a replacement for shaving cream
- apply it to the lips
- apply it to the nail cuticles
Shea butter contains components that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, such as triterpenes.
These are a group of compounds that may aid with:
- cell migration
- collagen deposition
- cell proliferation, which is the process in which cells grow and divide
There is some evidence to suggest that shea butter could be effective against wrinkles.
Shea butter is emollient. As an emollient, shea butter helps trap moisture in the skin.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) suggests using products such as shea butter within a few minutes of drying off.
Shea butter also contains linoleic acid; products containing linoleic acid had anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and hydration boosting properties.
Shea butter contains bioactive ingredients that give it anti-inflammatory properties.
Shea butter may have an ability to soften scar tissue.
A keloid is a type of raised and enlarged area of scarring; using shea butter may help prevent the formation of keloids.
However, it is important to note that the researchers used lab cultures. As a result, there is not enough research to show how effective shea butter is at preventing keloid scars.
A study suggests that shea butter oil may have antibacterial properties.
However, the AAD suggests that applying products that contain shea butter to a person’s face, back, or chest may cause clogged pores, which can lead to acne.
People who experience acne-prone skin may want to avoid using shea butter, or products containing shea butter, on the face.
Because of its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties, shea butter may help reduce dry scalp and scalp irritation.
However, shea oil may be more beneficial for hair than shea butter.
A study says that a seed oil with a similar bioactive-rich content to shea butter found that the seed oil made hair more resistant to breakage.
Additionally, an older Source examined the effects of oils and butters from plants on hair. It found that oil treatment reduced the combing force on wet hair. Butters do not spread as easily as oils throughout the hair.
How to use
People can choose over-the-counter hair care products that contain shea butter.
Alternatively, a person can melt raw shea butter and massage it into the scalp and full length of the hair.
Leave the shea butter on the hair and then wash it off in the shower using a mild shampoo.
People with hair that tends to get greasy may want to avoid using shea butter or shea oil on the hair, as this may make it worse.
Shea butter does not appear to trigger nut allergies. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers the shea nut to be a true nut, allergic reactions are either extremely rare or non-existent.
People should always stop using any products if they experience irritation or inflammation.
According to the CBI, there are two main types of shea butter — West African and East African.
East African shea butter:
- is more yellow in color than Western African shea butter
- has a lower melting point, so is more liquid at room temperature
- has a higher concentration of lei acid
- has a soft and creamy texture
Western African shea butter:
- has a higher concentration of vitamin A
- has a higher melting point, so a denser consistency at room temperature
- contains a lower concentration of oleic acid
- is harder in consistency
- has a higher concentration of sterol
Both types have similar but slightly different uses.
The CBI notes that East African shea butter may be more suitable for:
- sensitive skin
- aging skin
- bruised skin
- dry skin
- peeling skin
West African shea butter has a much higher content of vitamin A and therefore may be more suitable for use on:
- stretch marks
Unrefined shea butter means that it has been extracted and prepared without using any chemicals or preservatives.
Refined shea butter has undergone a process to remove the natural scent and make it whiter in color.
According to the American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI), refined shea butter has lost approximately 75% of the active ingredients.
Additionally, the ASBI describes the five grades of shea butter. Grade A contains the highest amount of bioactive nutrients and grade F is unsuitable for human use.
Because of this, people should opt for unrefined shea butter, between grades A to D.
Shea butter can benefit the skin and hair. It has moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.
A person should choose a high-quality, unrefined shea butter product to gain the most benefits.
A person can apply shea butter straight to the skin and hair, or combine it with other ingredients.