It seems timely with the testing for the Freefrom Skincare awards in full swing that I am doing my own skincare testing at home. Nothing to do with the awards, but everything to do with my quest to find natural and healthy food for my skin as well as my body.
A recent visit to my local health food shop gave way to a long chat with the lady working there whose daughter has quite bad eczema. She said that she buys shea butter, just plain simple shea butter, from the local ethnic shop and that it has worked wonders on her daughter’s skin.
Now I decided to do a bit of research into what shea butter really is since I’ve not really ever heard much spoken about it for dry skin. Why have I not discovered this before? It is the most amazing stuff and it’s just one ingredient, just shea butter, that’s it.
What is shea butter?Shea butter is a solid fatty oil which is made from the fruit of the Karite or Mangifolia free found in West and Central Africa. It can also be called karite butter.
The fruit looks a bit like a coconut with a hard shell. The shell is broken, the pulp is removed and the hard nut inside, which looks like the beautiful woody seed inside an avocado is then crushed and beaten in a mortar and pestle to remove the fatty oil. Hard, back breaking work, and harvesting is traditionally done by rural women under the beating African sun (300,000 to 400,000 in Burkina Faso alone).
This is what the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) which is based in the US says about shea butter:
“We suggest you ask your allergist for advice about this. The shea nut is a tree nut that has not been widely used in foods in the past, but shea butter and shea oil are being used increasingly in lotions, bath products, shampoos, and cosmetics. Although no reactions to shea nut have been documented in the medical literature some doctors advise patients with tree nut allergy to use caution and avoid products that contain ingredients derived from the shea nut.”
An article from 2003 on the Reuters website entitled, “Shea nuts appear safe in allergy study” describes how scientists analysed the protein in the shea nut and compared it to that of other well known allergenic nuts. It contained much, much lower levels and is mostly made up of the beneficial fat and very little protein.
Whilst it is derived from a nut, “the researchers found that the principle immune molecule that would usually invoke an allergic response, immunoglobulin E, barely bound to the shea protein.”
Dr. Kanwaljit K. Chawla, a pediatrician in training at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City who led the study said, “although shea nut in theory could be an allergy trigger, the evidence from the study suggests it’s not. At least the immune system does not appear to recognize it as a nut protein.”
So the advice is to use caution, but with the evidence above it’s worth giving it a try if you find somewhere that is willing to provide you with a testing sample. If you explain you have a nut allergy and are concerned about having a reaction you might get lucky. I haven’t found any evidence of true shea butter allergy at all. If it’s in a cosmetic product it’s far more likely you might be reacting to another ingredient, as these tests above prove. Remember though, someone, somewhere could be allergic to shea butter, and it could be you.
Try a tiny bit on small area of skin, and not your face. I’d suggest the inside of your wrist or the back of your neck, so if you do react it’s not going to be obvious to everyone and make you self conscious.
Benefits of shea butter
What is it about shea butter that makes it so great for your skin? Here are ten great reasons to give it a go.
- It’s jam packed full of vitamins including A,B,C,D,E,F and K
- It’s a great source of Calcium and Iron
- It’s completely natural and non toxic
- It’s even used in cooking as well as soap and beauty products
- It is know for its healing effects on burns, skin conditions, ulcerated skin, stretch marks, and dryness
- It contains beneficial fatty acids including: oleic acid (40-60%), stearic acid (20-50%), linoleic acid (3-11%), palmitic acid (2-9%), linolenic acid (<1%) and arachidic acid (<1%)
- These very clever vegetable fats help to promote cell regeneration and circulation, making it a wonderful healer and rejuvenator for troubled or aging skin
- It also contains natural, though limited, sun-protection (SPF 2-6)
- It can help to condition dry hair and split ends
- It’s just shea butter, one ingredient. What could be better?
The only thing to consider is the manufacturing process of the shea butter. Solvents such as hexane can be used during the process so it’s important to try to get hold of pure uncontaminated shea butter from a reputable source. There are different grades of shea butter which at present are not required to be stated on labelling. Look for fair trade shea butter and make sure you question and look fully into the production. I found some in my local African food shop.
Shea butter testing on dry, sensitive and eczematous skin
So, being very allergic to peanuts and most other nuts and also being blessed with very sensitive, dry and eczematous, atopic skin, I was a little dubious about trying it. I was very brave though and took a really tiny bit and rubbed it gently onto the inside of my left wrist, washed my hands thoroughly and waited. Nothing happened, but my wrist was lovely and silky smooth. So I have been experimenting by trying to moisturise one half of my body with pure shea butter and the other with my normal paraffin gloop.
I have to say, I’m really impressed. I don’t feel I need to put on more moisuriser until the end of the day, it’s not sticky or greasy and so far I’ve had no skin reactions what so ever. As yet I’ve not tried it on my face but I put some on the back of my neck this morning, and no itching. It’s looking good for the shea butter.
I can’t say there is a huge difference between the skin condition on my left side (Lucky left side is getting shea butter) and my right (Drew the short straw and gets Diprobase and Epaderm).
It does have a smell but I can’t quite put my finger on what it smells like. Shea butter I guess… Ha Ha. It comes in a solid form and looks just like ice cream and when you rub it in your palms it melts on contact with the warmth of your skin and becomes soft enough to moisurise without being greasy.
Africans have been using it on their skin and in their cooking for thousands of years. It’s the best kept beauty secret that everyone should know about. If it means we can be feeding our skin something natural and pure instead of man-made stuff we wouldn’t care to put into our mouths then it’s got to be good thing.
Beware of latex allergy cross reactions
If you are allergic to latex you could possibly react to shea butter as they are fairly closely related in the plant world so make sure you use with caution, do a small test area first and make sure you don’t react.
Anyone else tried it? Are you OK to use it? Or do you steer clear because you’ve been told it’s a nut?
OneSpot Allergy Blog writes about Cetaphil: Tree nut allergy warning
Skins Matter article, “Shea butter does not trigger allergic reactions”
And for information about why our labelling laws require shea, coconut and other fruits to be labelled as nuts when no evidence shows any link or allergies, read Go Dairy Free’s article, “Can a nut allergic use coconut based dairy alternatives?”