Shea Butter: Can It Relieve Irritating Skin Conditions?

Shea butter comes from the nuts of Shea-Karite trees and is probably one of the most popular yet underrated ingredients used in skin care products these days. These trees start to bear fruit after about 15 years, and it can take up to almost 30 years before the trees begin to bear nuts that have the desired quantity of essential fatty acids.

The best quality shea butter comes from Ghana, but the magical ingredient is also sourced from many other African countries. In fact, this nut butter is shaping up to be an instrumental factor in the economic development of several African countries, from Senegal to Sudan. 

According to the Global Shea Alliance, almost 16 million women from these countries depend on the production of shea butter for survival. Transparency Market Research notes that the global market for the product could go up to US $3.5 million by 2028, with USA, Netherlands, Denmark, and France leading the list of importers of the product. 

If you think shea butter is a new emergent in the skincare market, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. This miraculous fat has been available in the market for quite some time now and has been endorsed by several celebrities. I remember reading an article on HuffPost back in 2013, where several celebrities, including actress Alicia Silverstone and supermodel Andrea Thomas, mentioned that they use shea butter for their hair and skincare.

Now, if you don’t take their word for it, I won’t blame you. Celebrities often endorse bad products as well. But I will say that these celebrities were not wrong about this one. It is one of the best humectant and emollient I have ever come across in my life. 

Nutrition for Your Skin

You should know that not all shea butter are created equal. What you want is raw shea butter because it contains more vitamins and nutrients beneficial for your skin. Refining or processing this nut butter makes it lose a lot of its brilliant qualities. 

For example, processed shea butter often contains less or no cinnamic acid, which reduces its anti-inflammatory qualities. I believe cocoa butter is the closest thing, but it has fewer fatty acids, less vitamin E, and no vitamin A. 

According to Nku Naturals the best way to apply raw shea butter is to take a small amount between your palm and wait for it to melt. Then, gently massage the butter anywhere you want till your skin absorbs it completely. You can use it on its own or mix it with other ingredients to create your own skincare product. 

The best part is that it is completely non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores. But that being said, I must warn you against using shea butter routinely on acne-prone skin. Even though many people prone to acne vouch for its use, I think the results can vary from person to person, so it’s best if you do a patch test before getting into routine use. 

Effective Moisturizing

People who suffer from eczema or atopic dermatitis must use some moisturizer or emollient along with prescribed treatments to reduce the symptoms. Many patients swear by the use of African shea butter to get relief from itchy skin, redness, flaky skin, or other irritating symptoms of eczema. 

Apart from word-of-mouth affirmations, many studies have also shown this butter’s benefits for people prone to eczema. One such study from 2015 swapped the topical moisturizers for participants with an emollient containing shea butter. The participants continued their oral medications along with the new emollient and were observed for two weeks. 

The participants’ skin showed significant improvement, with skin hydration increasing by 44% and a reduction of itchiness by 79%. These improvements were mostly attributed to the moisturizing and antioxidant properties of the raw nut fat. 

There are many ways to use raw shea butter if you suffer from eczema. You can add sweet almond, avocado, coconut, or tea tree oil to the butter before applying it to your skin. Some people also say using shea butter soap and lotion while bathing works wonders. However, as I said before, different products react differently to individual skin, so you might have to try it on your own to see if it helps you.

Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant

Another research published by the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine mentions the effectiveness of raw shea butter in reducing inflammation and pain for skin-related ailments. 

The research notes that this nut butter can lower the levels of proinflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which are responsible for reducing the skin’s capability to hold in moisture. Moreover, essential fatty acids like oleic acid and stearic acid in this raw nut butter can reduce symptoms during eczema flares.

Shea butter contains lupeol, which is a triterpenoid compound. Scientists have been studying lupeol for its potential anti-inflammatory properties.

Lupeol can interfere with releasing certain pro-inflammatory enzymes like cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) in our body. These enzymes are responsible for producing prostaglandins and leukotrienes that cause inflammation.

Shea butter also contains phenolic compounds like catechins and tannins, known for their antioxidant properties. Catechins can search and destroy free radicals in the body to reduce oxidative stress, often linked to inflammation. That means the antioxidant properties of this nut fat work hand in hand with its anti-inflammatory qualities.

Promotion of Collagen Production

Oxidative stress caused by skin conditions can affect collagen production, making the skin age faster when you suffer from any condition. Shea butter is often touted for its anti-aging and skin renewal properties because it has the potential to support collagen production in the skin. As I mentioned earlier, raw shea butter is rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that promotes collagen production. 

Shea fat also contains compounds like phytosterols, triterpenes, and other bioactive compounds that have skin regenerative properties and can potentially support collagen production. These compounds do not turn into soap when the fat is used in bathing products, which is why using a soap or body lotion containing raw shea butter can help a great deal with skin conditions.

To conclude, shea butter has a lot of beneficial nutrients that can help those who suffer from annoying skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis. Even though it does not cure ailments, it reduces symptoms like dryness, patchiness, and inflammation while promoting quick healing. 

However, as with any topical product, you should always do a patch test to see if it works for you. If you are tired of dealing with skin problems, I hope shea butter helps you, just like it has helped many people. Good luck!

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Petra Nakashian (previously Kravos) is a dedicated natural health and beauty blogger, driven by the loss of her parents to cancer, which led her to meticulously research beauty product ingredients. With over 10 years of experience, her in-depth knowledge has made her a trusted expert in the field. Founder of Be Healthy Now and Green Beauty Talk, Petra recently expanded her expertise with Beauty Insights Hub, exploring a wider range of beauty treatments. Committed to transparency and honesty, her work is a vital resource for navigating the complex world of beauty.