Friday, 20 May 2011

Shea Butter and Latex sensitivity

Thank you Katherin

We owe Katherin Flett a big thank you for recently pointing out that people who suffer from latex sensitivity may also be sensitive to Shea Butter. We met Kathrin last Saturday and Otley College's Big Day Out in Suffolk, she spent some time perussing all of our current range and eventually asked if we made one which did not contain Shea Butter, we showed her our Hemp Bar, which contains Hemp Oil as a natural moisturiser instead of Shea Butter. She walked away smiling and eager to try her new Basil, Black Peper and Lavender scented soap.

We are often asked questions by customers who have skin conditions, so this inspired me to do a little research about this topic for this article.

So where does Latex and Shea Butter come from ?

Latex is produced from the sap of the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis) a tropical plant, orginally from South America, although most production is now in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is a  member of Euphorbiales order. There are many plants that produce a white sap when cut, Dandelions  (Taraxacum officinale) is a common example in the UK, the Rusian Dandelion (Taraxacum koksaghyz) has been used to produce rubber.

Shea Butter
Shea Butter is produced from the nut of the Karite Tree (Butyrospermum parkii).
Mature Karite Tree
It is member of the Ebenales order, grows naturally in the African savanna zone from Senegal to Ethiopia. The tree produces a nut which is about the size of a plum.
Karite nuts

Cross Allergens
People who allergic to Latex may also be allergic to certain foods. This is most likely because of the similarity between the latex proteins to proteins found in the food. The most common of these foods for latex suffers are banana, avocado, chestnut, kiwi, although there are others (see end of article for link to the full list).

I could only find anecdotal evidence (but quite a lot) indicating that people with Latex sensitivity may also have a reaction from Shea Butter. This is probably a similar cross reaction as in the foods, since the two plants Karite and Rubber tree are not closely related.

Not everybody who has a latex allergy gets a reaction to Shea butter.

Other Nuts
The Karite nut is considered to be a tree nut by the FDA (USA Food & Drug Administration). So if you are allergic to tree nuts such as cashews, almonds, pecans and walnuts among others, this might include Shea Butter too.

The peanut is actually a legume.  However, some children do have an allergy to both peanuts and tree nuts, best to check with your doctor.

It is worth pointing out that if you have a sensitivity to something and unsure, then it is always best to check with your doctor or do a patch test on your arm, before using anything in any sensitive part of your body.

Don't forget the vanilla fragrance.
I also noted, that Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) is also a member of the Ebenales order (like the Karite tree), and is the source of Gum Benjamin. This is used in perfumery and incense, since it provides an economical alternative to vanilla oil, Styrax benzoin can also be an allergen.

So what do you need to look out for on the labels.
The cosmetic industry have defined a standard list of names of ingredients. Known as the INCI list (International Nomenclature for the Cosmestic Industry).

Shea Butter has the INCI name Butyrospermum parkii

You might also come across other names for the same plant. The official name for the karite tree is actually Vitellaria paradoxa (and this is what you will see in wikipedia),  you may also see Butyrospermum paradoxa . There is also a change in the Order which this plant is a member some documents will use Enenales others will use Ericales. This is due to new new schemes for naming and classifying plants as methods improve for classification, we can now use genome mapping which was unavailable until recently.

Why use Shea Butter in the first place ?
It is a vegetable oil, composed of five principal fatty acids, oleic 46%, stearic 41%, palmitic 4%, linoleic 7% and arachidic 1%, so it can be used in soap making. Variations in percentile values exist depending on region, these figures are average values. The high oleic content (also in Olive Oil) produces a soft oil.

It has 10 Phenolic compounds which known to have antioxidant properties. The phenolic profile is similar to that of green tea, and the total phenolic content of shea butter is comparable to virgin olive oil.

Shea butter contains high levels of UV-B absorbing triterpene esters, including cinnamic acid, tocopherols (vitamin E), and phytosterols.

It acts as a natural moisturiser, it contains a high percentage of un-saponifiables, (they do not form part of the soap making process and remain in the finished product), such as phytosterols (campesterol, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol , and alpha-spinosterol) and triterpenes (cinnamic acid esters, alpha- and beta-amyrin, parkeol, buytospermol, and lupeol), and hydrocarbons such as karitene (1, 2).

Allantoin, another unsaponifiable compound, is responsible for the anti-inflammatory and healing effect on the skin.

It has been used as a skin salve in Africa and applied to the naval of new born children. It is a natural skin conditioning and emollient, it's high content of oleic fatty acid means it is soft and therefore also used in cosmetic creams. It is good to cook with and for soap making, the EU have accepted it as a Cocoa Butter Equivilent (CBE) and is an ingredient of some chocolate as a substitute for cocoa butter.

What do Colne Soap Makers produce ?

We produce two types of soap bars at the moment.

Colne Bar contains Shea Butter
Hemp Bar contains Hemp Oil

Further Reading

Independent Newspaper


  • Sekaf Ghana Ltd Manufacturers faq 
  • Shea Butter village Blog

PROTA (Plant Resource of Tropical Africa) Database Entry

Scientific papers

A good Source of Plant Relationships
Jack Campin's, A Related Plant List shows the relationship between plants, but also lists their common alleric characteristics, his article was was written with inspirational help from Marion Bowles, an allergy dietitian based in Edinburgh.

Support Group website

American Association of Family Physician Articles about Latex allergies

Forum Articles

Discussion about Latex allergies with a couple of people mentioning Shea Butter reactions too.
A good response to a forum thread correcting some urban myths that developed during the discussion.
One persons view explaining connections between Shea Butter and Latex allergies.

Shea Butter Production

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