Is Shea Butter An Antifungal? (What Science Tells Us)

While walking down the cosmetics aisle of your typical drugstore you may notice that several products include shea butter. This extracted fat is commonly included in moisturizers, conditioners, lotions, emulsions and lip products and is typically used for its moisturizing properties. However, is shea butter an actual antifungal like many claim?

Shea butter is not an antifungal. It is a fat that comes from the nut of the African Shea tree. Shea bark, however, does have antifungal properties. When extracts of the bark are applied directly to an infected area, they can kill spores of the fungi that cause ringworm and athlete’s foot.

In this article we will dive deeper into what science has said about shea butter as an antifungal as well as take a brief look at the other potential medicinal benefits of shea butter.

 

Shea Butter and Shea Bark: What’s the Difference?

Before we look into the studies that have identified shea tree bark as a potential antibacterial, it is important to understand what shea butter is and how it differs from shea bark.

Shea Butter

Shea butter is just a fat that comes from the nut of the African Shea tree.

Shea butter is a great ingredient for skin and hair care products due to the following abilities:

  • Melts at skin temperature
  • Has water-binding properties
  • Has rapid absorption into skin
  • Acts a re-fattening agent, which is very helpful for skincare particularly

Shea butter is sometimes included in soap, because of its conditioning effects: however due to it containing high amounts of unsaponifiables, it can only be used in small amounts.

Unsaponifiables create a softer soap, which will reduce its cleaning ability.

Shea butter, while it comes from the same tree, does not have any antifungal properties and should not be treated as such.

That being said, shea butter does have other medicinal properties, particularly as an anti-inflammatory topical medication.

We’ll discuss that further later on in the article, as well as other positive effects shea butter can have.

Shea Bark

Shea bark is the part of the Vitellaria paradoxa that has been found to have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

The healing properties of the bark is extracted through various method to be discussed later and is the focus of most of the scientific research on the medicinal properties of Vitellaria paradoxa.

With this in mind, it is important to note, that you’re unless the lotion you are using includes an extract from the shea bark plant it is not necessarily antifungal.

 

How Do Antifungals Work?

In addition to understanding the difference between shea butter and shea bark, it is important to know what an antifungal is in order to understand the findings of the studies.

An antifungal is just what it sounds like: a medicine that attacks funguses which commonly effect your skin, hair and nails.

They can come in the form of gels, sprays, or ointments. They may also be taken internally as pills or an injection.

However, you should never take any antifungal that hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor, unless it’s over the counter.

Additionally, some common fungal infections include:

  • Ringworm
  • Athlete's Foot
  • Fungal Nail Infection
  • Vaginal Thrush

Some types of dandruff can even be caused by a fungus!

Studies on the Antifungal Properties of The African Shea Tree

While the research on the antifungal properties of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) are rather scarce, the research that has been done is promising.

In 2009, a study was completed by researchers at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria to determine the effectiveness of the antifungal properties of the bark extracts of Vitellaria paradoxa on various clinical isolates that are known to cause fungal diseases.

The clinical isolates tested were:

  • Epidermophyton, Microsporum and Trichophyton – a group of fungi known as dermatophytes that infect kerantised surfaces producing conditions known as tinea or ring worm
  • Floccosum – Infects hair follicles and is the most common cause of ringworm of the groin
  • Audouinii – known to cause ring worm on the scalp of children
  • Aspergillus – commonly found in the lungs, but rarely causes infection
  • Mentagrophytes – the most common cause of athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)

The active substances of the bark were extracted using three methods:

  • Ethanolic extract
  • Hot aqueous extract
  • Cold aqueous extract

The extracts were combined into a solution with a 200 milligrams per liter (mg/l) concentration and applied to the various clinical isolates.

The results showed that the ethanolic extraction method was the most effective due to its ability to dissolve multivariable compounds.

In addition, it was successful in containing the spread of and killing all tested clinical isolates.

However, it was most effective in containing and killing the T. mentagrophytes, the fungi that causes athlete’s foot.

In laymen’s terms, the study demonstrated that extracts from the bark of the African shea tree can be used to treat athlete’s foot and ringworm.

 

Other Medicinal Properties of Shea Butter

While the finding of extracts of the shea tree are very exciting, there has been additional research completed on the other potential medicinal properties of the extracts.

 

Antibacterial Properties of the Shea Tree

A study in 2012 found that extracts from the bark of the shea tree were found to have antibacterial properties.

More specifically, the extract was fond to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause diseases such as: meningitis, urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal tract infections.

 

Shea Butter as an Anti-Inflammatory

Another study in 2012 verified the use of Shea Butter as an anti-inflammatory.

The study showed that, when applied to the skin, shea butter extracts can downregulate the mRNA and protein expressions of inflammatory cytokines and interleukins.

This study basically verifies that it is a great additive to lotions, because it minimizes the irritation of skin due to dry weather: however, it also demonstrates the potential for shea butter to be used as an aid to treat inflammatory skin diseases like eczema and psoriasis.

Another benefit of shea butter’s anti-inflammatory property is that it is effective in healing cuts and burns. Also, since It is high in fatty acids shea butter can help shield wounds from environmental factors that may cause infection.

A third benefit of shea butter’s anti-inflammatory properties is that it may help relieve nasal congestion.

In fact, a study in 1979 found that extracts from shea nuts may be more effective in relieving nasal congestion than conventional nasal drops.

Shea Nut Oil and Arthritis

In 2016 researchers published a report that demonstrated that the oil from shea nuts was effective in protecting cartilage from degeneration.

The study found that a supplement of shea nut oil was particularly effective in preventing the degeneration of cartilage after knee surgery.

This implies that shea nut oil could potentially be used in the prevention of arthritis.

 

Shea Butter as a Beauty Product

While the focus of this article was the medicinal products, it is important to note that shea butter is great for your skin and hair even if it doesn't have antifungal properties.

Shea butter has been linked to the following skin and hair benefits:

  • It’s an antioxidant
  • Prevention of acne
  • Boosts collagen production
  • Promotes skin cell regeneration
  • Reduces scarring and stretch marks
  • Reduces wrinkles
  • Prevents dandruff
  • Adds sun protection
  • Treats dandruff

Shea butter can benefit your entire body, whether you are using it as a beauty product or for medicinal purposes.

While both the beauty and medical fields could definitely benefit from further research on the benefit of shea butter, it is definitely clear that shea butter products are well worth looking into!


Our skin is the largest organ of our body, and it needs special care and attention. The problem is that most people aren't taught how to take proper care of their skin, which can result in dryness, itching, or rashes.

Even though there are many products on the market that claim to nourish your skin, they often contain ingredients such as parabens or mineral oil. These ingredients may be harmful to you and your family's sensitive skin.

Naturally Tribal Skincare was created with sensitive skin in mind. Our Body Foods have been specially formulated using Shea Butter to nourish, protect, and moisturize problematic skin without any of the harmful ingredients you might find in other body care brands. Our products are 100% natural making them perfect for use from birth all the way through adulthood!

Click here to learn more about Naturally Tribal Skincare and how we can help your skin.

Naturally Tribal Skincare - longer version


Additional Sources:

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published