Plant-based moisturizers are becoming increasingly popular as people look for products that keep moisture in the skin by reducing transepidermal water loss. One plant-based moisturizer that’s been in use for a long time is shea butter.

Shea butter is made up of fat that’s taken from the nuts of the African shea tree. Some of the properties that make it useful as a moisturizer include:

  • melting at body temperature
  • acting as a refatting agent by retaining key fats in your skin
  • absorbing rapidly into the skin

Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 30 million people are affected by some form of dermatitis. This includes:

Atopic dermatitis is by far the most common form, with over 18 million Americans affected. Symptoms include:

While there’s not currently a cure for any form of eczema, symptoms are manageable with proper care and treatment.

For eczema treatment using shea butter, use it as you would any other moisturizer. Take a short bath or shower with warm water twice a day. Gently pat yourself dry afterward with a soft, absorbent towel. Within a few minutes of toweling off, apply shea butter to your skin.

In a 2009 study by the University of Kansas, shea butter displayed results as an option for treating eczema. A patient with a moderate case of eczema applied Vaseline to one arm and shea butter to the other, twice daily.

At the beginning of the study, the severity of the patient’s eczema was rated as a 3, with 5 being a very severe case and 0 being totally clear. At the end, the arm using Vaseline had its rating downgraded to a 2, while the arm using shea butter was downgraded to a 1. The arm using shea butter was also notably smoother.

Shea butter has been proven to have several medical benefits, and has been used both orally and topically by dermatologists and other medical professionals for a number of years.

When applied topically, shea butter can increase moisture retention by acting as a protective layer over your skin and preventing water loss on the first layer, as well as penetrating to enrich the other layers.

Shea butter has been used in the cosmetic industry for years because of its antioxidant, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory characteristics. It’s also often used as a substitute for cocoa butter in cooking.

Allergic reactions to shea butter are extremely rare, with no reported cases of it in the United States. However, if you experience worsening eczema symptoms, such as increased inflammation or irritation, you should stop use immediately and contact your doctor or dermatologist.

Before trying any new at-home remedy, contact your dermatologist or primary care physician, as they can provide more specific guidance and recommendations for your current health situation.

Learning what causes your eczema outbreaks is vital, as it may affect what medications — or alternative or complementary treatments — are best for you. Before pursuing a new treatment, make sure that it doesn’t contain one of your triggers.