Shea butter is a creamy, semisolid fat made from the seeds of shea trees, which are native to Africa. It contains many vitamins (such as vitamins E and A) and skin-healing compounds. It’s used as a skin moisturizer and as an oil in foods like chocolate.
Shea nuts are nuts from the shea tree. While a person with a tree nut allergy could at least theoretically be allergic to shea butter, it’s highly unlikely.
In fact, the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program reports that there are no known cases of refined shea butter causing an allergic reaction, even in those with a known tree nut allergy.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tree nuts like walnuts, cashews, and pecans are among the eight most common foods (along with things like shellfish and peanuts) to produce an allergic reaction in people.
Allergic symptoms occur when proteins in the nut bind to a chemical in your blood called immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. In certain people, IgE will see the nut protein as a threat and tell the body to respond.
This causes an allergic reaction with symptoms like:
- difficulty breathing and swallowing
It is thought that an allergy to shea butter may be rare or even nonexistent because of the small amount of protein in the shea nut.
One 2011 study compared shea butter to other nut butters and found only trace protein bands in shea butter extracts. Without these protein bands, IgE has nothing to bind to and cannot cause an allergic reaction.
Shea butter has been heralded for centuries for its healthy properties. Some of its benefits include:
Shea oil is rich in triterpene, a compound thought to reduce pain and inflammation.
One 2013 study of 33 people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that those who used a shea oil extract for 16 weeks had less pain and could bend their knees better.
Oleic, stearic, and linoleic acids are all found in shea oil. These fatty acids, which help water and oil mix, also help your skin absorb shea butter. This can be helpful if you’re looking for a facial moisturizer that doesn’t leave a greasy feel.
Treating skin disorders
With its creamy base and soothing properties, shea butter is a great skin soother.
In a 2015 study involving 25 people with mild to moderate eczema, those who used a cream containing shea butter three times a day for two weeks had 79 percent less skin itching and a 44 percent increase in skin hydration.
Shea butter can also treat other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, cuts, and scrapes.
Clearing nasal congestion
Shea butter is known to help reduce inflammation, which may help explain why at least one study (albeit it an old one, from 1979) found it could reduce nasal congestion.
In , people with seasonal allergies applied shea butter to the inside of their nostrils. All of them had clear airways within 1.5 minutes and easier breathing that lasted up to 8.5 hours.
According to a 2014 review of studies in the American Journal of Life Sciences, shea butter has been shown to boost collagen production in rats. Collagen helps plump up skin and reduce the look of wrinkles.
The same paper notes that shea butter can also help absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun — an important factor in skin damage. However, doctors still recommend that you use sunscreen.
Shea butter is rich in vitamin E, which helps diminish skin scarring, and vitamin A, which helps keep skin firm.
Shea butter is a creamy, semisolid that melts at body temperature, making it easy for your skin to absorb. It’s used in a variety of skin and cosmetic products, such as:
There are two types of shea butter products:
- Unrefined shea butter. This is shea butter in its pure, natural form. Shop for unrefined shea butter.
- Refined shea butter. This is product where the natural color and odor have been removed. While this may make it more visually pleasing, according to the American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI), it can remove up to 75 percent of the “bioactive” ingredients that give shea butter its healthy properties. Shop for refined shea butter.
Shea butter itself seems to be unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, it’s possible to be allergic to a fragrance, preservative, or coloring agent used in products that contain it.
The ASBI recommends using certified premium grade A shea butter, which has been tested for quality and safety.
It should also be noted that some people with a latex allergy report having a sensitivity to shea butter, and a latex-type compound has been identified in shea butter. However, according to the American Latex Allergy Association, no known scientific studies have documented a connection between latex allergy and shea butter.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, shea butter can clog pores. As such, it is not recommended for use on the face or back of those with acne-prone skin.
While people with tree nut allergies can possibly have an allergic reaction to shea butter, none have ever been reported. Shea butter is generally considered a safe and effective moisturizer with many other benefits, such as fighting skin inflammation and the appearance of aging.
Choosing between refined or unrefined shea butter is mostly personal preference. Be aware, however, that while refined shea butter is moisturizing, it does not have the same amount of skin-calming benefits as unrefined shea butter.