A review of ethnomedicinal uses of shea butter for dermatoses in Sub-Saharan Africa

Dermatol Ther. 2022 Mar;35(3):e14786. doi: 10.1111/dth.14786. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Indigenous therapies, or traditional medicines (TMs), constitute a highly accessible and continuously growing health system in many parts of the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Shea butter, a fat produced from the kernels of the shea tree, has historically been used as an indigenous therapy for dermatologic ailments in SSA. Characterizing traditional therapeutic applications for shea butter is important to inform the continued development of TM in SSA. We conducted a literature review aimed at identifying all available publications on the use of shea butter to treat dermatoses within SSA and evaluating patterns of use. We found 24 dermatologic uses across 30 references. The most common study design was descriptive cross-sectional analysis (46.7%), often relying on the use of in-depth interviews, focus groups, and surveys. Eight SSA countries were represented and there were disparities in availability of information across SSA with the eastern and southern regions less likely to be represented. The most frequently investigated conditions were scabies, wound healing, and umbilical cord care. Shea butter was most commonly used in combination with other ingredients to produce a medical treatment with the most frequent adjuvant being Elaeis guineensis, African oil palm. Broad use of TM to treat varied skin diseases throughout SSA warrants increased investigations into this field in order to further develop the capacity of TM as a source of healthcare.

Keywords: Africa; Vitellaria paradoxa; ethnomedicine; shea butter; traditional medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Skin Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Wound Healing