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Shea Butter for Acne: Does it Work?

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Shea butter is an extremely popular additive in skin care products- and with good reason. Pure, unprocessed shea butter contains a wealth of skin-healing ingredients that can benefit a variety of skin conditions. But is acne one of them?

Acne is fun for no one, and often, it strikes far beyond the teen years. Today, there are numerous teens, young adults, and even older adults who still suffer from acne.

There are a variety of conditions that are linked to the development of acne, including a certain form of bacteria and oxidative stress. Shea butter contains both anti-bacterial properties as well as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which makes it uniquely suited to use as a moisturizing agent after cleansing the skin.

Read more below to find out how this nut oil can work to benefit your acne-prone skin.

What is Shea Butter?

Shea butter is an oil extracted from the shea tree. The shea tree has a variety of regional names, such as ori, kade, kadanya, and karité. Shea butter has a somewhat complicated extraction process, which leads to its higher cost. The trees themselves are not cultivated but gathered from wild trees. The butter is extracted from the nuts of the shea tree, which look a lot like cocoa beans.

First, the outer shell is removed, then the inner hard shell is broken open with a mortar and pestle. Then the nuts are roasted, and finally, the oil is pressed out of the nut using an expeller press. When the oil hardens, it turns into a semi cheese-like substance similar to coconut oil.

Shea Butter Ingredients

Shea butter has a surprisingly large number of ingredients that are incredibly helpful for the skin. Each ingredient listed below is beneficial for retaining the elasticity, smoothness, and appearance of healthy skin. These ingredients may be particularly effective at fighting against acne.

UV Blockers

Shea butter contains octyl methoxycinnamate and ingredient that works naturally to block UVB rays. This is an unusual ingredient that few plants have. It is possible that the plant developed UVB blocking properties due to its growing region in the hotter regions of Africa. Shea butter has a UV strength of 2, which is much less than modern sunscreens but is unusually high for a plant. For centuries, African peoples used shea butter to increase their resistance to the sun.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is one of the primary vitamins used to rejuvenate the skin. Vitamin A has long been an ingredient in many acne remedies, including the controversial Accutane, which is basically a massive dose of vitamin A taken orally to dry up excess oil and kill acne bacteria. Additionally, vitamin A contains retinoids, which are useful for fighting wrinkles.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is vital for skin health, as it contains regenerative antioxidants. Antioxidants encourage the healthy renewal of cells and eliminate free radicals and oxidative stress in the body, which can lead to a wide variety of problems. Some studies show that individuals with acne often have lower levels of vitamin A and E than individuals without acne. Additional studies have shown that some acne may be caused by an increase in oxidative stress in the body.

Lupeol Cinnamate

Lupeol cinnamate is an acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Topical treatments containing lupeol cinnamate can reduce inflammation on the skin. Inflammation is common with acne and is what causes the bumps to appear red and irritated. Lupeol cinnamate can help reduce redness and may even be able to make the bumps heal faster by soothing the infected areas.

Vitamin D

Shea butter also contains a small amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D is beneficial for the health of skin and works to improve the immune system. Studies have not shown vitamin D to reduce acne directly, but it is possible that improving the immune system will better equip the body to fight to defend against the bacteria that cause acne.

Studies about Shea Butter and Skin

Although studies on natural products are typically smaller and less frequent than studies on synthetic products, a few studies have examined the effect of shea butter on the skin. None of these studies have examined the link between acne and shea butter specifically, but some of them indicate results that would also be beneficial in fighting acne.

In 1978, researchers found that the use of shea butter along with salicylic acid improved the efficiency of the acid by 24 percent. It was a somewhat small increase, but it could be the difference between a skin routine that is effective at fighting acne versus one that is ineffective at fighting acne.

In 1988, researchers tested the moisturizing effect of Shea butter on 30 study participants. The participants either rubbed a moisturizer containing 5 percent shea butter or a placebo cream in one area for several weeks. The study researchers found that with a consistent application for 30 days, skin remained moisturized 40 percent better than the placebo cream. However, it is possible that higher concentrations of shea butter would have even greater moisturizing effects.

Two French studies published in 1990 showed several benefits of shea butter as a skin treatment. In one study, 30 study participants applied shea butter to the skin for 4 to 8 months. Shea butter improved thinning skin in 100 percent of participants, brightened the skin in nearly 100 percent of participants, and reduced the appearance of wrinkles in about 50 percent of participants. In the second study, 49 participants applied shea butter to the skin twice daily in a 15 percent concentration or 100 percent concentration. 70 percent of participants showed improvement in scars, burns, and dermatitis. 75 percent of participants showed reduced wrinkles.

How to Use Shea Butter on Acne

Shea butter is comedogenic, which means it shouldn’t clog pores. In fact, it may help keep them open and clean, as illustrated by the studies and investigation into the nutrients in shea butter. However, it is still an additional source of oil, which may not benefit all types of skin. Before slathering the oil over your entire face, you may want to test a small area before applying to your entire face.

Wash the Face

Shea butter should not be used as a replacement for your facial cleanser. You can use water only to clean your face, but if you wear makeup or perfume, or work outside, water may not reach into pores enough to fully clean them and remove all bacteria and dirt. You can use a formula containing salicylic acid, but try to avoid chemical products, as these may negate the natural benefits of shea butter. Some dermatologists recommend washing the face twice a day, while others recommend once a day. Choose whichever option is more beneficial for you. After cleansing, dry the skin.

Moisturize with Shea Butter

Apply the shea butter to the face using your fingers. Rub in circular motions to work the oil into the skin. The shea butter may feel a little greasy at first, but it should absorb into the skin within a few minutes. Some healthcare professionals recommend only applying shea butter at night. Experiment to see which provides the most benefit to you. The study that saw skin condition improvement in 75 percent of study participants had the participants rub the butter into their skin twice a day.

How to Pick the Right Shea Butter

A few years ago, shea butter was the darling of the health care industry. All cosmetic products boasted that they contained shea butter. Since then, the healthcare industry has moved on to the next big craze in health. The problem with mainstream cosmetics claiming to use these natural ingredients is that if you look closely, the amount actually included in the product is often minuscule.

Like most natural products, the effects of the product are diminished when the ingredient is diluted. Many cosmetic companies also refine the oil, which also diminishes the effects of the ingredients. This is why cosmetic companies flit from gimmick to gimmick because, in their brand’s formula, the natural element often adds no additional benefit.

The best formula of shea butter to use for acne and other skin conditions is pure, unrefined, raw shea butter. It looks a little like cheese. A lot of companies tend to mix different oils or ingredients in with the shea butter, so always verify the integrity of the seller before making the purchase. The more refined and processed the oil is, the less benefit it will have on the skin.

Shea Butter Improves the Effects of Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is included in many acne remedies because it is a natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory substance. Salicylic acid works to open cells, remove bacteria, and keep the cells open to prevent clogged pores. It is worth noting that salicylic acid does not work on all forms of acne, and some individuals with acne report salicylic acid working for a short time, but then becoming ineffective over time.

Scientists performing experiments on different oils and salicylic acid, it was found that shea butter increased the efficient release of the salicylic acid crystals. This indicates that following a salicylic acne treatment by moisturizing with shea butter will make the salicylic acid more effective at cleaning and protecting the skin. Shea butter can also counteract some of the drying effects of salicylic acid.

Is Shea Butter Enough?

Since no direct studies have been done on the effectiveness of shea butter for acne, the only resource available are anecdotal reports from acne-sufferers who have tried it. On Acne.org, 85 percent of users who have tried shea butter for acne would recommend it to others. The treatment method has 4.2 out of 5 stars, which is a high rating. A few people, on the other hand, do complain that shea butter makes their skin break out worse than before.

In general, shea butter should be beneficial for your skin, but it may need to be used in combination with other acne-fighting methods for the best results.

Other Acne-Fighting Methods to Try
  • Topical witch hazel
  • Supplements for healthy skin: omega 3 fats, vitamin D, vitamin A, magnesium, selenium, and zinc
  • Topical coconut oil
  • A diet rich in minerals, healthy fat and protein, and vegetables and fruit

Shea Butter and Acne

Although shea butter may not be enough to completely cure your acne, the ingredients in shea butter are uniquely suited to improving the appearance of acne and discouraging the formation of new pimples. When combined with other acne-fighting methods, including supplements that fight acne and a gentle facial cleanser, shea butter can be a beneficial addition to your acne care routine.





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