Can I Use Aloe Vera and Shea Butter on My Hair? What are the Benefits?

It's 4pm on a Sunday and I’m standing under the shower scrubbing and scrubbing, and somehow, I cannot seem to get the smell of onion out of my hair. So many thoughts are running through my mind…

‘I should have blended my DIY hair mask more thoroughly! Why did I add onion? I mean, onion, shea butter and castor oil don’t sound as though they mix well. Maybe I shouldn’t have combined the two recipes I found on YouTube… Maybe I should have done more research. Do I still smell like an onion? This is starting to feel psychological.’

Well, it may have been.

You see I, like many making the transition to include more natural products in my routine, decided to go the autonomous route and finally try out a DIY hair mask, that combines raw oils, shea butter, and raw foods. I’d somehow gone from thinking, food is meant to be eaten, to maybe onion is the key to hair growth in a matter of months (in my defence, Lockdown left me with too much time to experiment…)

As I walked around certain I could smell a profuse odour that filled every room I walked into over the next few weeks, I realised, psychological or not, I had made a mistake. Surely washing my hair was supposed to clean it. It was time to ask, terrible DIY masks aside, what natural products and ingredients should I be using on my hair? Could I, for example, use all-natural skincare products on my hair? To get the answer to this, I’d need to look more closely at the ingredients; raw onion was out, but what about core skincare ingredients like shea butter and aloe vera? Do their benefits cross over to my follicles? 

Aloe Vera vs Shea Butter for Skin

When it comes to skincare, everyone know shea butter is That Girl. One of the most helpful natural ingredients; known for its healing and deeply moisturising properties and scientifically proven to soothe irritated skin, as well being effective in alleviating the symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

That’s why it’s at the core of Oyoma’s Whipped Shea Butter; a light, versatile moisturiser that can be used every day on any part of the body, making it a key for anyone who wants to simplify their skincare routine without compromise. You can read more of the benefits of shea butter here.

Aloe Vera equally has a reputation as a skincare champion. According in a research article published in 2012, ‘It is an ingredient in many cosmetics because it heals moisturizes, and softens skin.’ Anti-inflammatory, scientifically proven to heal wounds faster, able to heal dry skin, when studied in a controlled experiment, aloe vera gel ‘improved skin integrity, decreased appearance of fine wrinkling.’

With the ability to soothe inflamed skin, treat burns, frostbite, and ulcers, ‘with good results.' It can also treat sunburn, and cuts, and balance the skins excess oil. Aloe vera is also a key ingredient in Oyoma’s Whipped Shea Butter. You can read more of the benefits of aloe vera for the skin here.

So, it would seem like shea butter and aloe vera for skin are a clear winner, but what about shea butter and aloe vera for hair?

Aloe Vera vs Shea Butter for Hair

Understanding Why More People Using Natural Ingredients and DIY Products on Their Hair

The natural and minimalist product movement are two branches of the same tree. In America in particular, documentaries such as HBO’s ‘Not So Pretty.’ explore the lack of regulation in the chemicals used in the manufacturing of everyday products, in the billion-dollar beauty industry. This is particularly terrifying when looking at products targeted towards Black women.

A 2016 article by the EWG noted: “In an analysis of ingredients in 1,177 beauty and personal care products marketed to Black women, about one in 12 was ranked highly hazardous on the scoring system of EWG's Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database, a free online resource for finding less-hazardous alternatives to personal care products.”

Similarly, despite Black British women spending £168M a year on hair products, products containing harmful ingredients are still prevalent in the UK. Oxford university recently published research showing that there was, ‘some evidence that heavy use of lye-containing hair relaxers may be associated with increased risk of ER breast cancer.’ According to an article published by the Metro, ‘Research released today by feminist campaign group Level Up reveals that 95.5% of Black British women do not trust big beauty brands to sell them safe products.’

In the wider market, it’s also fair to say that influencer marketing can dictate where we shop, especially regarding hair and beauty products. In such a huge industry, with so many product choices available, it’s nice to get simplified recommendations and routines from a trusted source; a regular person, whose journey you can tune into, and learn with.

As we all know, not everything recommended on a personal YouTube channel has been tested long term by the publisher, and may not be coming from experienced hairdressers, chemists, and dermatologists. There are also examples of hair and beauty influencers exposing the damage products they previously promoted have done to their hair in the long run.

Moreover, for members of social groups and communities typically ignored by mainstream corporate marketing, it’s only natural (and important) to develop one’s own inclusive communities to share and recommend products. Social media allows us all to do this. Natural ingredients are often pulled from the histories of different cultures around the world, passed down through generations by word of mouth.

Using natural products can be an obvious improvement from products containing toxic chemicals, but it’s important to check what the expert advice is.

Aloe Vera

A native of South Africa, the use of aloe spices for healing dates back thousands of years. It’s nothing new, in fact drawings of the plant were found on the walls of ancient Egyptians. And as someone who downloads Tik Toks about skin and hair care religiously, all I’ll say is, I get it.

We know aloe vera has scientifically proven healing properties, so it makes sense that it has also been proven effective in treating dandruff. With all its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, it sounds like the perfect ingredient to treat a dry, irritated, cut, or flaky scalp.

But when it comes to the look and care of the hair itself, there is no evidence to back up claims that aloe vera can improve the look or overall health of hair. It contains vitamins A, C and E, B12 and folic acid. Vitamin A, C and E contribute to cell turnover, and Vitamin B12 and folic acid in theory can keep your hair from falling out, there is no evidence as of yet to back this up.

According to MD and certified dermatologist Dr Greenfield, it’s possible that aloe vera could help support hair growth by addressing and calming inflammation on your scalp, but won’t actually speed up the rate as which your hair grows, as only a new set of hormones and DNA could do this. If you feel attacked by this statement, honey we all do.

Shea Butter

If you look on the back of many popular hair products, you will find shea butter listed as an ingredient. With more and more people embracing natural hair products, it makes seems logical that some are turning to raw ingredient itself.

Shea Butter has also been used for thousands of years, being used to protect hair from the heat in ancient Egypt. Shea Butter has also been proven by research as an effective ingredient to create a smoother surface, increase hair thickness and the amount of amino acids in bleached hair. However, using raw Shea Butter on your hair has become an experienced hairdresser’s pain point.

I realised this myself when I saw Curly Hair and Loc Educator, Camille Janae’s video on twitter.

In the video you can clearly see how Camille’s client’s hair is repelling water as it’s being washed. This is attributed to the use of raw oils and butters, as well as popular brands that make shampoo, conditioner, and styling products using shea butter and oils as their main ingredients. These products are marketed to Black women but have had an overarching impact on the hair care industry as whole. This sent me down a rabbit hole that changed the way I was washing and styling my hair.

I discovered the #30DayHairDetox by licensed cosmetologists Aeleise O. and Aishia S. based in the US. The detox started as a viral article where the professionals implored us to stop using coconut oil & shea butter in our hair, and has now become a movement. One of the reasons listed is that they lead to dry hair, a problem that I was experiencing myself.

The two promote a simplified, manageable hair routine that revolves around washing, conditioning, and styling and promotes hair health. And as someone who never wanted to smell like onion again, this appealed to me.

In a separate article, the experts push back against the idea of using raw ingredients on their own in general, stating that, ‘The humectants, emollients, water, vitamins, and minerals included in product formulations work together to address hair concerns. Isolating an individual ingredient does not have the same efficacy. Often, the molecules in raw forms of a product are too large for hair and skin care needs and must be processed to work effectively.’ Check out their book for more context and advice.

In Conclusion…

Aloe Vera can be used to effectively treat some scalp problems such dandruff. While an incredibly effective ingredient, raw shea butter on the hair can lead to dryness. While we know the benefits of ingredients used for thousands of years may mostly be hearsay, spread through word of mouth, with more and more research backing up what our ancestors knew, it’s only natural that we continue to try and use those things. But as humans evolve, so does our shared knowledge. We can harness the power of natural ingredients in efficient ways that truly benefit our skin and hair.

As always, please let us know what you think. We would love to know what works for you.