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Effets beurre de karité sur l'acné.

Acne: What are the effects of Shea Butter?

Shea butter is an increasingly coveted ingredient in cosmetic care. It is known for moisturizing dry skin, but it is also reportedly effective in combating acne. Discover its mode of action and its potential benefits to fight against this skin discomfort.

Published January 29, 2024, by Manon, Head of Scientific Communication — 6 min read

What exactly is acne?

Primarily located on the face and back, acne is a non-contagious skin condition non-contagious, characterized by the appearance of pimples and blackheads at the level of the pilosebaceous follicles. Three factors are involved and cause a person to develop acne: excessive production of sebum (hyperseborrhea) or a sebum that is too thick (dyseborrhea), the obstruction of pores by the accumulation of dead cells (hyperkeratosis), and the proliferation of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes within the follicle.

Indeed, when this bacterium is present in very large quantities, it creates an oxygen-free environment conducive to its proliferation. It secretes enzymes into the hair follicle and sebaceous gland that hydrolyze the triglycerides in sebum into irritating and pro-inflammatory free fatty acids, triggering an inflammatory reaction. Hormones, particularly androgens, are the main cause of overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands, which is responsible for facial seborrhea.

In the fight against acne, more and more people are seeking "natural remedies" to limit the use of products that may not necessarily be kind to the epidermis. Shea butter has often been touted as an alternative for combating acne, but its effects on acne-prone skin are often not well understood.

Proven benefits of shea butter on acne?

The shea tree is a species that grows in West Africa, where it is harvested for the production of shea butter. This is a plant-based fat, obtained through mechanical extraction of the pulp. Often touted as a natural solution for reducing the appearance of acne blemishes, it raises some concerns among individuals with acne-prone skin due to its oily and highly nourishing nature.

What properties of shea butter are beneficial for acne?

Shea butter contains, among other things, lupeol, a terpenic alcohol with anti-inflammatory properties. This compound inhibits the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as iNOS, COX-2, TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-12, through the NF-kB signaling pathway. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory virtues, shea butter is ideal for calming inflammations caused by acne, reducing redness, and soothing the skin. Moreover, it is important to note that pure shea butter is not comedogenic. It penetrates the cells of the epidermis without clogging the pores.

What can be said about its often-claimed anti-microbial properties?

Shea butter has often been cited for its anti-microbial properties. However, some studies show that this ubiquitous claim is not always true. For your information, the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, responsible for inflammation, is a so-called Gram-positive bacteria of the commensal skin flora.

Research published in 2012 showed that Gram-positive bacteria are more susceptible to the antimicrobial properties of shea butter. However, the studies were conducted using extracts from the stem bark of the shea tree, suggesting that the antimicrobial properties of shea are likely exclusive to the stem and may not necessarily be present in shea butter obtained from the fruit. In 2020, another study was conducted on samples of shea butter. The results showed that it did not exhibit any antimicrobial activity, against either Gram-positive or Gram-negative bacteria.

Although shea butter is often touted as having anti-microbial properties, it is difficult to confirm this due to conflicting results from various studies. Therefore, only its anti-inflammatory properties are of interest in reducing inflammatory reactions caused by acne and soothing the skin. Shea butter does not constitute an effective solution for combating acne, as it does not act to limit its occurrence. Moreover, these studies were not conducted directly on subjects with acne-prone skin. While we do not doubt the benefits of shea butter, this article discusses extrapolations.

In conclusion, shea butter can be used in conjunction with prescribed anti-acne treatments, which tend to dry out the skin and be harsh on the epidermis. To benefit from its virtues, start by cleaning your skin with a gentle cleanser that contains exfoliating and unclogging active ingredients. This step is important to eliminate the excess sebum produced by acne-prone skin. Once the skin is cleaned and dried, apply a layer of pure, unrefined shea butter.


  • AYANKUNLE A. A. & al. Antibacterial activity and sub-chronic toxicity studies of Vitellaria paradoxa stem bark extract. Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology (2012).

  • GAUTAM H. K. & al. Anti-inflammatory effects of shea butter through inhibition of iNos, Cox-2, and cytokines via the NF-kB pathway in Lps-activated J774 macrophage cells. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine (2012).

  • AKIHISA T. & al. Triterpene glycosides and other polar constituents of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) kernels and their bioactivities. Phytochemistry (2014).

  • SAADAWI S. & al. Physical properties, antibacterial and antioxidant properties of raw South Africa shea butter against samples from Libyan market. International Journal of Progressive Sciences and Technologies (2020).


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