Shea Butter

Other Name(s):

Arbre À Beurre, Arbre de Vie, Árbol Montequero, Bambouk, Bassia parkii, Beurre de Galan, Beurre de Karité, Butirospermo, Buttertree, Butyrospermum paradoxum, Butyrospermum parkii, Cárei, Carité, Galam Buttertree, Karite Nut, Karité, Manteca de karité, Schibutterbaum, Shea Buttertree, Sheasmörträd, Sheatree, Vitellaria paradoxa.


Shea butter is a seed fat that comes from the shea tree. The shea tree is found in East and West tropical Africa. The shea butter comes from two oily kernels within the shea tree seed. After the kernel is removed from the seed, it is ground into a powder and boiled in water. The butter then rises to the top of the water and becomes solid.

People apply shea butter to the skin for acne, arthritis, burns, dandruff, inflamed skin, dry skin, eczema, insect bites, itch, muscle soreness, scaly and itchy skin (psoriasis), rash, a skin infection caused by mites (scabies), scars, sinus infection, skin breakages, stretch marks, wound healing, and wrinkled skin.

In foods, shea butter is used as a fat for cooking.

In manufacturing, shea butter is used in cosmetic products.

How does it work?

Shea butter works like an emollient. It might help soften or smooth dry skin. Shea butter also contains substances that can reduce skin swelling. This might help treat conditions associated with skin swelling such as eczema.


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Uses & Effectiveness

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Hayfever caused by ragweed. Early research suggests that applying shea butter to the inside of the nose as needed over 4 days clears the airways and improves breathing in adults and children who have congestion from hayfever. The airways appear to clear in as quickly as 30 seconds. The effect seems to last for up to 8.5 hours. Shea butter appears to improve congestion as effectively as certain nasal decongestant drops.
  • Acne.
  • Arthritis.
  • Burns.
  • Dandruff.
  • Inflamed skin.
  • Dry skin.
  • Eczema.
  • Insect bites.
  • Itch.
  • Muscle soreness.
  • Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis).
  • Rash.
  • A skin infection caused by mites (scabies).
  • Scars.
  • Sinus infection.
  • Skin ulcers.
  • Stretch marks.
  • Wound healing.
  • Wrinkled skin.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate shea butter for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

Shea butter is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods.

Shea butter is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. About 2-4 grams of shea butter has been applied to the inside of the nose safely for up to 4 days.

There isn't enough reliable information available to know if using shea butter long-term is safe.


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Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Shea butter is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking shea butter in greater amounts if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Children: Shea butter is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods. Shea butter is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately, short-term. About 2-4 grams of shea butter has been applied to the inside of the nose safely for up to 4 days.


The appropriate dose of shea butter depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for shea butter (in children/in adults). Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

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Akihisa T, Kojima N, Kikuchi T, et al. Anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive effects of triterpene cinnamates and acetates from shea fat. J Oleo Sci 2010;59(6):273-80. View abstract.

Berry, S. E., Miller, G. J., and Sanders, T. A. The solid fat content of stearic acid-rich fats determines their postprandial effects. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(6):1486-1494. View abstract.

Di Vincenzo, D., Maranz, S., Serraiocco, A., Vito, R., Wiesman, Z., and Bianchi, G. Regional variation in shea butter lipid and triterpene composition in four African countries. J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53(19):7473-7479. View abstract.

Essengue Belibi S, Stechschulte D, Olson N. The use of Shea butter as an Emollient for Eczema. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2009;123(2):S41.

Itoh, T., Tamura, T., and Matsumoto, T. 24-Methylenedammarenol: a new triterpene alcohol from shea butter. Lipids 1975;10(12):808-813. View abstract.

Maranz, S. and Wiesman, Z. Influence of climate on the tocopherol content of shea butter. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52(10):2934-2937. View abstract.

Maranz, S., Wiesman, Z., and Garti, N. Phenolic constituents of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) kernels. J Agric Food Chem 2003;51(21):6268-6273. View abstract.

Sanders, T. A. and Berry, S. E. Influence of stearic acid on postprandial lipemia and hemostatic function. Lipids 2005;40(12):1221-1227. View abstract.

Tella, A. Preliminary studies on nasal decongestant activity from the seed of the shea butter tree, Butyrospermum parkii. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1979;7(5):495-497. View abstract.

Tholstrup T, Marckmann P, Jespersen J, Sandstrom B. Fat high in stearic acid favorably affects blood lipids and factor VII coagulant activity in comparison with fats high in palmitic acid or high in myristic and lauric acids. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59:371-7. View abstract.

Tholstrup, T. Influence of stearic acid on hemostatic risk factors in humans. Lipids 2005;40(12):1229-1235. View abstract.

Title 21 - Food and Drugs. Part 184. Direct food substances affirmed as generally recognized as safe. Subpart B - Listings of specific substances affirmed as GRAS. Section 184.1702 - Sheanut oil. Available at:

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