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Shea Butter

History and Origin

Shea butter is extracted from Vitellaria paradoxa, also known as the Shea Tree, which grows in Africa. The greenish shea butter is extracted from its nuts, which are similar to avocados. The extract, which is crushed and boiled, is consumed in traditional West African cuisine. It is also used in the chocolate industry as a substitute for cocoa butter. Shea butter is also used in traditional native ceremonies. Members of a rebel group in Uganda smeared shea butter on their bodies, believing that it would protect them from bullets.

Properties, Activity, Chemical Structure/Contents

Shea butter has moisturizing and skin-protection properties. It contains a number of phenols including gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, epicatechin gallate, gallocatechin and epigallocatechin gallate as well as quercetin and trans-cinnamic acid.1

Skincare Applications

Shea butter is most often used for its emollient properties as an adjunctivefor the care of itchy dry skin.


  1. Maranz S, Wiesman Z, Garti N. Phenolic constituents of she ( Vitellaria paradoxa) kernels. J Agric Food Chem 2003;51:6268-6273.

Further Reading

  • Farnsworth NR. Shea butter tree. J Clin Pharmacol. 1973; 13: 372.
  • Konning GH, Mital HC. The study of shea butter.4.Stability of medicaments in shea butter ointment and creams. Pharm Acta Helv. 1974;49: 192-196.
  • Loden M, Andersson AC. Effect of topically applied lipids on surfactant-irritated skin. Br J Dermatol. 1996 Feb;134(2):215-20.
  • Mital HC, Dove FR. The study of shea butter.1. Physico-chemical properties. Planta Med. 1971;20: 283-288.
  • Luger T, Gelmetti C, Grimalt R. Emollients as adjuncts in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a multicentric study. J Am Acad Dermatol 2005;52 ( Suppl) P69.
Shea Butter
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