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Shea Butter: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Rajeev Singh

By Dr Rajeev Singh +2 more


Since ancient times, many plant species and their products have been used by humans as food or medicines to treat illnesses. Shea butter is one such fat extracted from the shea fruit’s kernel. It is obtained from the nuts of the Vitellaria paradoxa (formerly Butyrospermum paradoxa) and Vitellaria parkii trees belonging to the family sapotaceae. Butyrospermum, which means ‘butter seed’, explains that we can extract butter from seed after processing. The shea tree grows in Nigeria, Ghana and regions of West and East Africa. It is imported to India for its several benefits. Butter is solid at normal temperature but melts quickly at body temperature. It is utilised in cosmetics as well as in the food industry.1-3 We can apply it as a cream or bath product like shampoo. Let’s keep reading to learn about shea butter and its potential uses. 

shea butter benefits

Nutritional Value of Shea Butter: 

Shea butter contains the following nutrients and their average content per 100g dry weight:1 

Nutrient Percentage Content 
Water (%) 1.4% 
Carbohydrates  22.3 
Lipid 75 
Ash 2.3 
Calcium  9.6mg 
Copper 0.8mg 
Iron 3.6mg 
Potassium 2.2mg 
Magnesium 4.5mg 
Manganese 0.006mg 
Sodium 4.2mg 
Zinc 2.7mg 

         Table 1: Depicting the nutrient content of shea butter per 100g/dw1 

Vitamins present in the shea butter are as follows: 

  • Vitamin A (Retinol) 
  • Vitamin F (Contains two types of essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid) 
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherol) 

Along with these, shea butter contains triglycerides, plant sterols, saponin and triterpenes.1 

Anti-inflammatory compounds included in shea butter may reduce skin oedema and redness. I recommend people apply it to soothe any discomfort, including sunburns, chapped lips, and skin which is overexposed to acidic peels or washes.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Properties of Shea Butter: 

The following are the properties of shea butter: 

  • It might have anti-inflammatory properties.1 
  • It might act as an emollient, which may help soothe and soften the skin.1 
  • It might be a refatting agent (meaning easily absorbed into the skin and has good water-binding properties).1 
  • It might have antioxidant properties.3 

Potential Uses of Shea Butter for Overall Health: 

1. Potential uses of shea butter for healing 

Shea butter is a rich source of fatty acids and plant sterols such as linoleic, palmitic, and stearic acids, which may have healing properties. Due to its anti-inflammatory property, it may be applied as an ointment. Shea butter has a lower soap formation rate than other nut oils. It also includes vitamin A, which may treat skin sensitivities such as poison ivy and bug bites. It also contains Vitamin F, which might help rejuvenate rough or damaged skin. Furthermore, it may have a soothing effect. Raw and unrefined shea butter may benefit skin rashes, stretch marks, burns, bug bites, athlete’s foot, scars, frost bites, skin peeling after tannin and arthritis.1 Fatty acids present in the shea butter may help in these conditions. However, shea butter alone may not be able to help you with this condition. So, please consult a physician for a diagnosis and treatment. 

2. Potential uses of shea butter for hair 

Shea butter may protect hair against harmful free radicals in the air, water and harsh weather conditions. Shea butter has a non-greasy texture, which allows it to spread easily on the scalp. Shea butter protects hair from heat after application. This protective function may be helpful for processed or coloured hair. When applied to the hair before swimming, Shea butter may protect it from salt and chlorine. Furthermore, it may be beneficial in softening and restoring damaged or dry hair and curly hair treatments.1 However, shea butter may result in serious problems. So, please visit a doctor for better health results. 

3. Potential uses of shea butter for allergies  

Shea butter contains triterpenes such as e-butyrospermol, lupeol, parkeol, etc. As a result, it may lower hypersensitivity reactions such as IgE-mediated allergy reactions, which are the antibodies that cause the allergic reaction. It may also be beneficial in patients with autoimmune responses in mammals.1 Although, shea butter alone may not be able to help you with allergies. So, kindly consult a physician. 

4. Potential uses of shea butter for skin 

Shea butter may act as a sunscreen and moisturizing agent. Sunscreens work by absorbing or reflecting some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light and blocking it from reaching the skin. According to a study done by Nahm in 2011 the cinnamate esters found in shea butter can absorb UV rays from the sun. Therefore, it may provide some sun protection. In addition, shea butter may add more moisture and nutrition to the skin in the winter and summer as it absorbs into the skin rapidly and has high water-binding characteristics, which may be helpful for skin care. Also, shea butter might protect the skin from sunburn, photo-ageing and erythema and reduce the risk of skin cancer.1 Nonetheless, please consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Avoid trying self-medication because conditions could worsen. 

5. Potential uses of shea butter for protein metabolism 

Protein metabolism may assist tissue repair and growth, allow metabolic reactions to occur and coordinate vital functions. Malachi, 2013 found that saponin in shea butter can form complexes with protein in the intestine. It may reduce protein concentrations in hepatic and renal organs, as well as in the blood. As a result, it may minimise protein metabolism in the body.1 However, please visit a doctor. Self-medication with shea butter may result in serious complications. 

6. Potential uses of shea butter for anti-ageing 

Triterpenes in shea butter might help improve collagen and elastin function, which protects the skin and provide strength. This might help in slowing the ageing process. In the study by Tran done in 1986, it was shown that shea butter has anti-erythemic activity against UV, which is the skin redness caused by an allergic reaction. This property may soften the skin and increase cell regeneration.1 There is a need for more research to explore the potentiality of shea butter as an anti-ageing agent. Kindly consult the doctor for better health results. 

7. Potential uses of shea butter for cholesterol 

In a study by Akinwale et al., 2012 saponins and linoleic acid present in shea butter may lower LDL, total cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in rats. In the same study, saponins in shea butter were found to form complexes with cholesterol and bile acids in the colon. As a result, rather than absorption, it produces cholesterol excretion. Furthermore, Masters et al. (2004) discovered that high levels of stearic acids in shea butter had antihypercholesterolemic properties, which may lower LDL and total cholesterol levels in the blood.1,2 However, further research on this subject might be able to prove the effects of shea butter on cholesterol management. If you have high cholesterol levels, consult a doctor and do not self-medicate. 

8. Potential uses of shea butter for cardiovascular health 

In a study by Amegah et al., 2019 consumption of shea butter may improve cardiovascular health and reduce hypertension. Oleic acid, linoleic acid and polyphenols in shea butter may help improve cardiovascular health.4 However, more studies are needed to prove the role of shea butter in cardiovascular health. As cardiovascular disease is a severe condition, please consult the doctor for the same. 

Though there are studies that show the benefits of shea butter in various conditions, but these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of shea butter on human health.  

How to Use Shea Butter? 

  1. You can use shea butter as a cooking oil.1 
  1. You can apply it as a lotion, sun-screening agent or moisturizer.1 
  1. You can apply it as hand cream or shampoo.1 

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.   

Vitamin E is naturally abundant in shea butter making it one of the best skin moisturizing agent. Vitamin E is known for its antioxidant activity, that may protect against cellular deterioration and increase moisture in the skin.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Also Read: Does Butter Go Bad? Your Guide to Butter Shelf Life

Side Effects of Shea Butter: 

Shea butter has no known side effects. Although, if an unpleasant reaction happens, get immediate medical help. First, consult the physician who prescribed it to you; they will be able to diagnose and cure the problem. 

Precautions to Take with Shea Butter:  

It is important to take general safety precautions when taking any medication. It should be used cautiously, especially by pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, and only when prescribed by your doctor. In addition, you should take caution while giving it to children and the elderly. 

Interactions with Other Drugs: 

There were no adverse drug interactions reported between shea butter with other drugs. However, there is not enough information to say it doesn’t interact with other medicines and is entirely safe to use; further research is in need on this topic. As a result, you must follow your doctor’s advice carefully, as their prescription depends on your health situation. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Does shea butter have a positive effect on migraine? 

No, however more research is required to determine the effect of shea butter on migraine. 

Does shea butter help in reducing occurrence of skin cancer? 

Shea butter may be helpful in halting the process of photo-carcinogenesis which is related to tumour growth. UVB rays from the sun can cause it. These radiations have the potential to destroy cell DNA. So, shea butter might have a direct protective effect on DNA and may help in the management of skin cancer.1 Even so, cancer is a severe condition; please consult the doctor for diagnosis and treatment. 

How does shea butter moisturise skin and hair? 

Shea butter includes vitamins A and E, which may be helpful as a hair moisturiser. Shea butter also has semi-solid properties and buttery consistency, which might make it a good moisturiser for the scalp and skin.1 Kindly consult the doctor for better health results. 

State the side effects of shea butter. 

There are no side effects associated with shea butter. However, if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms, please see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.  

Is shea butter effective in diabetes? 

No. Although please consult the doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment, as diabetes is a severe condition. 


  1. MAANIKUU PM, PEKER K. Medicinal and nutritional benefits from the Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). Journal of Biology Agriculture and Healthcare. 2017;7(22):51-7. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/234662463.pdf 
  1. Akinwale A, Modu S, Maisartu MA, Zainab MA, Bilkisu UM. Effect of feeding various concentrations of shea oil on some biochemical parameters in normal albino rat. Bulletin of Environment, Pharmacology & Life Sciences. 2012 Jan;1(2):14-7. Available from: https://bepls.com/april_2013/16.pdf 
  1. Honfo FG, Akissoe N, Linnemann AR, Soumanou M, Van Boekel MA. Nutritional composition of shea products and chemical properties of shea butter: a review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2014 Jan 1;54(5):673-86. Available from: (PDF) Nutritional Composition of Shea Products and Chemical Properties of Shea Butter: A Review (researchgate.net) 
  1. Amegah AK, Brahuah E, Stranges S. Cooking with shea butter is associated with lower blood pressure in the Ghanaian population. Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. 2019 Apr 10. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332331411_Cooking_with_shea_butter_is_associated_with_lower_blood_pressure_in_the_Ghanaian_population 

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