Considering Shea Butter for Psoriasis? Benefits and Options | MyPsoriasisTeam

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Considering Shea Butter for Psoriasis? Benefits and Options

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Posted on April 20, 2023

If you have psoriasis, your social media feed might be filled with advertisements for creams and ointments promising to relieve your itchiness and dry skin. But do any of these essential oils, moisturizers, and other skin care products actually work?

In this article, we take a look at shea butter. While some people successfully use it to combat flare-ups or as part of their regular psoriasis skin care routine, others say it doesn’t work for them. Find out what shea butter is, how it may help with skin conditions like psoriasis, and how to use it safely.

“I massage shea butter on my fingertips and cuticles,” said one MyPsoriasisTeam member. “Shea butter helps soothe my psoriasis and moisturizes my skin,” another said. “I read that it has healing properties from a shea nut.”

Before trying shea butter or other over-the-counter treatments for psoriasis — even those labeled natural or organic — always talk to your doctor or a dermatologist.

What Is Shea Butter?

Shea butter is a type of vegetable fat extracted from nuts that grow on shea trees in semiarid African countries. Like coconut oil and other fatty acid oils, shea butter is solid at room temperature but liquefies when heated.

The shea nut is the seed inside the shea tree fruit, making shea butter a seed oil. It is edible — many use shea butter as a plant-based cooking oil in parts of Africa — but it is also a popular ingredient in personal care products.

Shea Butter Products

You have likely seen shea butter shampoos or moisturizers on the shelves at your local drugstore or big-box retailer. Products that commonly use shea butter include:

  • Soaps
  • Body washes
  • Moisturizers
  • Hand and foot creams
  • Lip balms
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Hair treatments for dry scalp
  • Sunburn treatments
  • Shaving and aftershave creams
  • Creams to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy
  • Diaper rash creams
  • Anti-aging creams
  • Treatments for insect bites
  • Creams to ease pain and muscle fatigue

Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about incorporating shea butter products into your skin care routine. The best products for you will depend on your type of psoriasis.

“Body wash with shea butter made a big difference for me,” reported a MyPsoriasisTeam member. “Hand creams with shea butter work like a charm for me in keeping the dryness out,” another said.

What Are the Benefits of Shea Butter?

The healing properties of shea butter can promote healthy skin. The following are some of the main benefits of this popular skin and hair care ingredient.

It Can Relieve Dry Skin

Shea butter is an emollient, a topical skin care product for soothing and moisturizing the skin. It contains five major fatty acids, which create a hydrating effect by lubricating the skin and locking in moisture to keep water from evaporating. The fatty acids found in shea butter include stearic, linoleic, oleic, palmitic, and arachidic acids.

It Can Ease Inflammation

Shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties that can address multiple skin issues. Someone with sensitive skin might use it to reduce irritation after an exfoliating scrub. Someone else might use it to ease swelling due to a sunburn or another environmental cause.

It Can Help With Sun Protection

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Shea butter has an SPF of around three or four. Although shea butter isn’t strong enough to act alone as a sunscreen, its natural SPF and moisturizing benefits make it a popular ingredient in commercial sunscreen lotions. (Dermatologists recommend applying sunscreen every two hours when outdoors or after swimming and sweating.)

It Can Prevent or Delay Cell Damage

Antioxidants protect skin cells from free radicals, naturally occurring molecules that can lead to cancer, aging skin, and other health concerns. Shea butter contains two powerful antioxidants, vitamins A and E. Vitamin A stimulates collagen production and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin E hydrates the skin and prevents cell damage.

Can Shea Butter Help Treat Psoriasis?

Studies have shown the benefits of shea butter for treating eczema and that shea butter extract has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. More research is needed to explore shea butter as a treatment for psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Some of the general benefits of shea butter, like its ability to relieve dry skin and ease irritation, may help alleviate common symptoms of psoriasis, including scaly patches or plaques that flake, itch, burn, or sting.

The National Psoriasis Foundation maintains a list of commercially available moisturizers that have been reviewed by dermatologists, rheumatologists, and people living with psoriatic disease. These products have earned the National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition for being safe and nonirritating. One of the moisturizers on the list includes shea butter as an ingredient. Other products contain salicylic acid, oats, or other natural ingredients.

Although further research is needed, consider asking your health care provider about shea butter at your next appointment. While this product won’t replace your prescription medications and treatments, it may be a helpful addition to your psoriasis treatment plan.

What MyPsoriasisTeam Members Say About Shea Butter

Here’s what several MyPsoriasisTeam members have said about shea butter:

  • “I use shea butter cream with vitamin E and vitamin A. It relieves the itch!”
  • “Shea butter is great as a moisturizer and smells nice!”
  • “I used raw shea butter, and my skin was almost clear after only four days.”
  • “I stopped using steroid cream and started using 100 percent unrefined shea butter. My skin is 100 times better!”
  • “I’m trying baby cream with shea butter, and it has certainly stopped the inflammation.”
  • “I use shea butter morning and night and sometimes more if I’m not at work.”
  • “Shea butter is amazing. I’ve had good luck with it.”
  • “I love shea butter!”

A few MyPsoriasisTeam members said that shea butter does not work for them:

  • “I can’t use shea butter. It makes my skin worse.”
  • “It’s not thick enough to protect my skin.”
  • “The plaque psoriasis on my neck is flaring out of control. I have been putting coconut oil, tree oil, aloe vera, and shea butter on it, but it never goes away.”

As with many interventions for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, what works for some may not work for everyone. The good news is that shea butter is safe for most people who want to try it, but talk to your doctor first.

Risks of Shea Butter

Shea butter is generally safe for all skin types. The few potential side effects will likely only affect people who have specific underlying health issues. Also, many products with shea butter contain other ingredients that may irritate or worsen psoriasis symptoms. Before trying a new product, it’s important to review all ingredients listed on the label with a health care provider.

It Can Clog Your Pores

Because of its thick consistency, shea butter could clog your pores and lead to a breakout. If you have acne-prone skin, consult a doctor who specializes in dermatology before applying shea butter to your face or body.

It Can Grow Yeast

Even though shea butter has antifungal properties and can be used to treat some fungal skin infections, a yeast related to dandruff can grow in shea butter. This shouldn’t affect most people with psoriasis, but if you also have seborrheic dermatitis, ask your doctor about the link between shea butter and dandruff before applying the product to your hair or skin.

It Can Trigger Your Latex Allergy

Shea trees contain natural latex, so you should not use raw or unrefined shea butter if you have a latex allergy. Refined shea butter should be safe for you to use, but ask your health care provider or an allergist before trying it.

It Should Not Trigger Your Nut Allergy

Despite coming from a nut, shea butter is unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction in people with nut allergies. According to Cleveland Clinic, no allergic reactions to shea butter have been reported in people with nut allergies. Allergens are proteins, and shea butter is made entirely of fat, making it allergen-free.

How To Use Shea Butter for Psoriasis

How you use shea butter for psoriasis will depend on which type of psoriasis you have and which shea butter products you want to use. If you have plaque psoriasis, you might try a topical moisturizer to alleviate dryness and flaking. If you have nail psoriasis, you might massage shea butter lotion into your hands and fingernails. For scalp psoriasis, you might try a shea butter shampoo or conditioner. To treat a psoriasis flare, you might consider a body wash and a lotion.

Note that emollients typically need to be applied three or four times a day for maximum benefit.

How MyPsoriasisTeam Members Use Shea Butter

This is how some MyPsoriasisTeam members use shea butter:

  • “I shampoo my hair with shea moisturizing shampoo and conditioner specifically for psoriasis and eczema.”
  • “I use shea butter moisturizer on my ankles and elbows.”
  • “Shea butter works well for me after a hot shower.”
  • “I buy raw shea butter, hemp, and jojoba and mix it into a cream. It really helps my skin from drying out and cracking.”
  • “I got a body lotion that relieves eczema and psoriasis. I applied it twice yesterday, once in the morning and once at night, and I can already tell it’s helping.”

You might need to experiment with different products to see if shea butter can help reduce your psoriasis symptoms, but talk to your health care provider first. If you are not already seeing a dermatologist, consider adding this type of specialist to your psoriasis care team. If you have a latex allergy, talk to an allergist before using any products containing shea butter.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 116,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Have you used shea butter for psoriasis? Did you find that it worked for your symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on April 20, 2023
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    Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here.
    Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here.

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