Likely, you've seen the name "shea butter" in many of the personal care products along the shelves in stores. Maybe you're already using products such as lotion or shampoo and conditioner with it but, what exactly is shea butter? What makes it such an amazing ingredient? What other uses may be out there for shea butter? In this article, we aim to answer those questions and more. Let's go!
Shea butter comes from the Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) which is found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Depending on its area of origin, shea butter contains a mixed percentage of oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, and palmitic acids as well as Vitamin A and E. For example, Shea trees coming from cold areas have lower concentrations of Vitamin E than those from hot, dry areas. Regardless, these acids are what endow this special butter with it's moisturizing benefits.
It's important to note the benefits of Vitamin A and E in order to understand the properties that make shea butter so effective. Vitamin A acts as a skin regulator and helps turn immature skin cells into mature ones. Vitamin E is a skin protector and can reverse or slow down the aging process of the skin. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. When you combine these two vitamins together you on the skin, you have super healthy, protective properties that helps the skin to look its absolute best.
These effects have, of course, not been lost on the cosmetic industry and are used extensively in topical lotions and creams.
Shea butter comes in two forms, refined and unrefined. Refined Shea butter is the more common form within the cosmetic industry because it contains far less impurities. Shea butter is classified by its quality into four classes, A, B, C and F, from highest quality to lowest.
(the yellow butter is unrefined)
Now that you understand a little bit more about Shea butter, let's now transition into what Shea butter can do and some it's wondrous benefits beyond the common uses of lotions, creams and hair conditioners:
1) Shea butter may relieve arthritis symptoms
A study performed where 33 arthritic patients were given shea nut oil over a 16 week time period results in lower reported lower levels of knee pain.
2) Shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties
One study looked at the anti-inflammatory properties of lupeol, a component in Shea butter on paw swelling in rats. Those that were given lupeol had 39% less paw swelling than those that did not receive it.
3) Shea butter is an effective nasal decongestant
This one may come as a bit of a shocker but, a study on 33 patients with nasal congestion (rhinitis) found that topically applied shea butter was more effective at reducing symptoms than xylometazoline (a decongestant) and placebo. Give it a try next time you have a cold.
4) Shea butter is an effective eczema treatment
One 4-week study in 34 patients with eczema found that a cream with shea butter extract reduced skin itching and improved quality of life in 74% of subjects.
Similarly, in another study (pilot) of 25 subjects with eczema, natural treatments such as moisturizers with shea butter oil reduced itching (by 79%) and increased skin hydration (by 44%).
5) Shea butter may be able to treat acne symptoms
In a study involving lupeol, the same used with the rats for it's anti-inflammatory properties, subjects with acne were given lupeol which was found to suppress enzymes responsible for oil production in the skin and saw considerably diminished acne symptoms.
6) Shea butter for split ends
In one hair study, five oils and three kinds of butter were tested on the hair. Substances containing high percentages of oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acids (also found in shea butter) significantly reduced the number of split ends per gram of hair!
7) Shea butter as a mosquito repellent
Substances containing oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acids - all of which are highly prevalent acids in shea butter have been shown to effectively repel mosquitoes.
8) Shea butter in deodorant
For those interested in making their own deodorant, shea butter is an excellent ingredient that results in smooth applications.
Side effects of Shea butter
Due to it's high concentration of stearic acid, those with bleeding problems or those taking drugs that may increase likelihood of bleeding may want to avoid shea butter.
As with any topically applied product, it's always safe to test out how you might react to the product by first applying it in a small amount to a small section of skin before applying in any extensive amount.