Shea butter is a common moisturizer that is often used by itself and is also found in cosmetic and personal care products. Native to Africa, shea butter — which is a fat that is extracted from the nut of the shea tree — can, depending on the form, be used on the skin and hair and be eaten.

Shea butter, which is solid at room temperature and has a buttery consistency, has anti-inflammatory properties and can provide valuable nutrients, including vitamins A and E. 

However, some people should avoid shea butter in all forms. As with any substance, shea butter can cause an allergic reaction in some people. In this blog, Dr. Ulrike Ziegner at Riviera Allergy Medical Center in Redondo Beach, California, discusses the allergic reactions associated with shea butter and what you can do if you think you might be allergic to the substance.

Contact dermatitis

Men, women, and children with contact dermatitis can develop a red, itchy rash when their skin comes in contact with substances they’re allergic to. Any substance can cause contact dermatitis, and shea butter is no exception. In fact, substances in cosmetics and fragrances are responsible for most cases of contact dermatitis.

You should visit Dr. Ziegner if you notice that a rash develops after using products containing shea butter. With contact dermatitis, the immune system overreacts to substances that don’t normally cause problems in people. To avoid triggering symptoms, check labels carefully.

Latex allergy

Natural latex is found in nearly 10% of all plants. This complex emulsion contains proteins, starches, sugars, oils, and other substances. Because the shea tree can contain natural latex, it may trigger a reaction in people with a latex allergy. Anyone with an allergy to latex is at risk of having an allergic reaction when using shea butter.

Nut allergy

Shea butter is derived from the shea nut. So if you have a tree nut allergy, shea butter may trigger it. Even though the amount of protein in shea butter is quite small, it can provoke a reaction in someone who is very sensitive. 

Consider that some people can have a reaction from the mere smell of peanuts due to peanut dust particles in the air. So, even tiny amounts of protein from nuts can cause problems in some people. Still, a nut allergy to shea is rare.

Allergic reactions to ingredients in shea butter products

Shea butter lotion and other personal care products may contain other ingredients that you have a sensitivity to. Fragrances are commonly added to give lotions a pleasant smell. It’s possible to experience a reaction to just about any additive in cosmetic products.

Patch testing the skin can help determine what substance you’re sensitive to if you find that you have a reaction to shea butter products.

Symptoms to watch out for

If you wonder if you have an allergy to shea butter, take note if you have any of the following symptoms after using a product containing shea butter:

  • Red skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing

Seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 if you experience symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including trouble breathing and swelling of the lips, eyes, and face.

Allergy testing

Visiting a specialist is the only way to get to the bottom of your symptoms and know for sure whether you’re allergic to shea butter. Dr. Ziegner specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. Dr. Ziegner uses skin patch testing to check for reactions to a host of substances.

To learn more about diagnosing and managing allergies, book an appointment online or over the phone with Riviera Allergy Medical Center today.

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