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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
  • aftersun products
  • hair treatments for a dry scalp

This is due to its moisturizing and anti-inflammtory properties.

In this article, we look at how shea butter can benefit the hair and skin.

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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

Anti-aging

According to a 2018 article, 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.

Dry skin

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.

According to 2018 research, products containing linoleic acid had anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and hydration boosting properties.

Eczema

Shea butter contains bioactive ingredients that give it anti-inflammatory properties.

A small 2015 study consisting of 25 people with mild-to-moderate eczema found that shea butter may help alleviate the signs and symptoms of eczema.

Scars

Shea butter may have an ability to soften scar tissue.

A keloid is a type of raised and enlarged area of scarring. There is evidence to suggest that 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.

Acne

A 2016 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 2017 study of 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 2009 study 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.

The American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI) notes that unrefined shea butter contains latex. As a result, those with a latex allergy may experience an allergic reaction to shea butter.

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 leicacid
  • 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
  • wounds
  • 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:

  • scars
  • blemishes
  • wrinkles
  • 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.

Raw, unrefined shea butter is available for purchase online.

A person can make their own shea butter face mask:

Shea butter face mask

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Take the aloe vera gel, shea butter, and extra virgin olive oil and place in a clean cup.
  2. Combine the ingredients thoroughly.

Note: If the shea butter is too solid, place it in the microwave for approximately 5–10 seconds.

Application:

  1. Clean the face before applying the mask.
  2. Apply the mixture on the face and neck.
  3. Leave for approximately 15 minutes, or until the mask is dry.
  4. Rinse the face with warm water.

A person can combine shea butter with other ingredients to make a hair mask.

Avocado and shea butter hair mask

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2–3 tbsp of raw shea butter

Method:

  1. Scoop out the flesh from half the avocado and place it in a blender.
  2. Blend until a smooth paste forms, and set it aside.
  3. Melt the shea butter and combine with the avocado.

Application:

Apply the mixture over the hair and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse in the shower using a mild shampoo.

A person can repeat this once or twice a week.

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.