Healthy Beginnings

Does raw shea butter do anything?

Shea butter is mainly used in the cosmetics industry for skin- and hair-related products.

Editor’s note: This abridged article originally published in full in August 2017 on the Walnut, California-based blog “Healthy but Smart,” and its conclusions are drawn from several scientific studies published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Visit healthybutsmart.com/raw-shea-butter to read the original story.


The blogosphere extols the benefits of shea butter for a wide array of skin problems, including dry skin, blemishes, age-spots, wrinkles, pruritus, sunburn, skin wounds, dermatitis, eczema, skin allergies, insect bites and even frost bite.

But, is there any science to back up the popularity of shea butter? This article attempts to answer that.

What is shea butter?

Shea nuts are hand picked from the ground below trees, the pulp is removed and the nuts are boiled or roasted. The nut is de-husked, leaving a kernel that is ground into a paste and mixed with water to produce the shea butter or oil.

Is there any research?

There are a grand total of 66 published studies on shea butter. Only 11 of the 66 studies on shea butter are actual clinical trials.

Of the 11 clinical trials, one was done with broiler chicks, five relate to lipid/blood clotting and one relates to nasal congestion, which leaves four clinical trials relating to the skin.

Based on these studies, it is totally surprising that an essentially unproven commodity rose to the “cutting edge of global capitalism.”

Does it have anti-aging properties?

A single study was carried out in 10 healthy volunteers and involved the use of shea butter as a delivery vehicle for a heptapeptide (acetyl-DEETGEF-OH).

Shea butter was used as a carrier and was not the therapeutic agent in the study, so who cares?

Does it moisturize scalp and hair?

There are no published studies on the use of shea butter to moisturize the hair or scalp. There are not even any laboratory studies or animal studies to be found.

Does it prevent nappy rash in babies?

There are no studies or even case reports to support the use of shea butter in the prevention or treatment of nappy rash.

Does it relieve windburn, sunburn or dry skin?

There are four clinical studies looking at shea butter as a moisturizer. Two of the studies were discounted as they were confounded by the use of topical anti-inflammatories along with the shea butter.

That leaves are only two clinical studies evaluating the effects of shea butter alone. Only one of the studies looked at normal skin and showed no benefit of shea butter.

Does it reduce stretch marks, cellulite or scarring?

No high-quality evidence was found by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews to support the use of any of the topical preparations in the prevention of stretch marks during pregnancy.

Is shea butter safe?

There is too little information available on shea butter to comment on its safety.

However, a small study in 15 men did suggest that shea butter high in stearic acid may have a favorable impact on blood lipids.

Conclusion

Scientifically speaking, the shea butter beauty economy is underpinned by one negative study in people with normal skin (meaning that shea butter did not work) and a positive study in 34 children, which was non-randomized and non-blinded.

As such, this much is clear: We are a gullible and foolish consumer market.

Abby Campbell, PhD, is a practicing MD and contributor at HealthyButSmart.com, where she promotes an evidence-based approach to health.