I’ve seen shea butter in an awful lot of products and for a long time, I took for granted that if so many people are using it, it must be tested and effective. Since Cleopatra, we’ve had histories that include shea butter for cosmetic usage (Shea Butter). Historically, travelers to Africa have written home about its importance in the local culture’s daily life.
But I’ve learned to question even my much-loved beauty products and so I had to know just how effective Shea butter is proven to be. Fortunately, I found that in many regards, it’s a very beneficial ingredient.
How Good of a Moisturizer is it?
It’s also been shown to be superior to mineral oil at preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). In a test where participants arms were washing in water containing ethanol, researchers found that shea butter was able to help the skin totally recover from TEWL within two hours. After three to four hours, it improved skin barrier (Formulation and Science).In one study, a cream with 5% shea and a placebo cream were applied to volunteer’s forearms. The moisturizing effects peaked at one hour but continued for eight hours (Pobeda and Sousselier). One study showed that it worked as an emollient for eczema. Using a scale from zero to five — zero denoting clear and five denoting very severe disease — shea butter took a three down to a one, while Vaseline only took a three down to a two (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology).
Is It the Cure for All that Ails You?
Shea butter has been touted to do everything from help skin inflammation to work as an anti-aging ingredient — but what does it actually do?
Shea butter has actually been shown to have some anti-aging properties. In two studies it was determined to help regenerate thinning skin, lessen wrinkles from sun damage, improve complexion, and promote healing (Pobeda and Sousselier). The anti-aging, potentially collagen-boosting effects were attributed to the presences of unsaponifiables, lipids found in fatty fruits like avocado. In a study with rats, these were shown to boost collagen production (British Journal of Dermatology). Unsaponifiables in avocado and soybeans have been shown, not simply to reduce wrinkles through hydrating effect, but to actually increase collagen production (Phytotherapy Research).
Several studies suggest that it has anti-inflammatory powers. It will reduce reactions to skin irritants (British Journal of Dermatology). It’s also been shown to aid in nasal congestion (Pobeda and Sousselier). But most studies should be done to determine exactly how effective it is for soothing inflammation.
But there are things it doesn’t do — or at least that aren’t proven. As of right now, the only proven ingredient to reduce stretch marks is trentinoin cream, aside from that it’s all lasers and microdermabrasion (Mayo Clinic).
It’s Not an Allergen for Nut-Allergy Sufferers
Good news for nut allergy sufferers: Shea nuts have not been found to have the same levels of proteins that other tree nuts that cause allergens. In fact, there have been no reported allergic reactions to shea butter. This means it’s very unlikely that someone will have a negative reaction to shea butter-containing lotions (and long as you aren’t sensitive to another ingredient!) (The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology).[Read More: Five Natural Ingredients that Can Irritate Your Skin]
Shea butter is used frequently because it’s effective. It’s a great emollient and moisturizer that can help fight aging, treat eczema, and might be good for treating skin inflammation. Unfortunately, despite the many tales out there, it hasn’t been proven to help with stretch marks. But overall it’s a great moisturizer with a lot of potential and, best of all for nut-allergy sufferers, there’s virtually no evidence that it’s caused allergic reactions.
Buy it pure…
Or buy it in lotion…
Both of these come with a rich combination of Shea and another super hydrator, cocoa butter.