It’s the base ingredient of so many natural hair and skincare products, and it’s heralded as a miraculous moisturizer that’s essential for women with natural hair. But what happens when you’re allergic to the thing that everyone else loves? What happens if you have a nut allergy, and shea butter is your enemy, and all you’re seeing are allergy triggering products on the store shelves? What’s a nut allergic naturalista to do?


Shea butter photo courtesy Shutterstock

It happens more often than you think, and whereas food products come with labels to ensure that folks with food allergies are aware of the dangers, hair products are far less likely to have that warning sign. What happens if you’ve gone ahead and purchased that hot new hair product without awareness of having that allergic reaction? It’s not good.

“If I do use shea & other nut products I’m allergic to, it’ll start out as an itchy scalp and then even scab over…thankfully that’s only happened once. I can’t use shea, almond products & I’ve even had reactions to tea tree and grapeseed oil,” says Yesha Callahan, prolific writer for amongst other sites. Yesha’s learned her lesson the hard way. “Right now I stick to olive oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil. So far no issues with those…I go right to the natural market across the street & buy my products. I try not to use other products because who has time to read all of the ingredients?”

Yesha isn’t alone in her hair allergy issue – click here to read a post she wrote for Clutch, titled You May Be Allergic To Your Natural Hair Products. In the course of my research, I discovered that surprisingly few natural hair brands go the extra mile to warn customers about potential allergy issues. Oyin Handmade is one of them, instructing cautious customers to do a patch test before using their products. A few Oyin products are popular amongst nut-allergy naturalistas, including their Burnt Sugar Pomade (which is made with castor oil, soybean oil, coconut oil, mango seed oil, olive oil, cocoa butter, broccoli seed oil and hempseed oil).

Another alternative would be to whip up your own products using a base of those ingredients. Consider aloe vera gel, coconut oil, cocoa butter, olive oil and honey to be safe go-to ingredients. Of course, there are always the bellas with herb allergies. Just make sure you read all your labels carefully before buying, if you’ve got an allergy!

Tree nut allergies are serious business. Reactions can range from breakouts, rashes and eczema, to life-threatening shock. If you have a tree nut allergy, the following ingredients can trigger a reaction: shea butter, almond oil, argan oil, peanut oil, macadamia nut oil, and sunflower oil. Click here to read this helpful 2011 New York Times article on the topic, titled Allergies Can Be Natural, Too.

I had to ask Yesha what changes she’d like to see in this arena of the natural hair marketplace. “I would like to see more companies not only offer products without the use of nuts, but also clearly inform the consumer that patch tests should be used before using their product. Even letting people know the signs of an allergic reaction could be beneficial. Most people will shrug off a random itch after using a product, not realizing that they could be allergic. A random itch could turn into hives, or even hair loss,” she said. I think her requests are quite reasonable. Here’s hoping a few of these brands are paying attention!

Do you have a nut allergy? What are your go-to ingredients and product recommendations? What changes would you like to see in the world of hair care?


milaxx says:
November 18, 2014, 9:05 pm
I'm surprised she can use coconut oil is she's allergic to almond oil. That said, Oyin is a personal favorite of mine.
pamela willis says:
November 19, 2014, 12:06 am
You can also make a hair smoothie utilizing Aloe Butter in addition to the ingredients that are recommended in the article. I customize products for individuals with nut allergies as it has become pretty common. All the best!
Amber says:
November 19, 2014, 1:41 pm
I have been using Zuri Handmade's Avocado souffle moisturizer. It has been a personal staple for over a year now. I have a Shea allergy and I love this on my hair. They also custom make all of theirproducts for those with allergies.
drymartini says:
November 23, 2014, 9:50 am
I forget where I read this, but coconut is not a nut like almonds or walnuts, but considered in botany as a fruit. So some people with nut allergies can consume coconut products. Biology is a mystery! If I couldn't use shea butter I'd be in serious trouble, I love that stuff.
alt-K says:
December 1, 2014, 1:18 pm
I have a pretty severe allergy to coconut oil. I discovered it only after applying the oil to my hair and scalp. It burns and causes open sores on my scalp and ears. Funny thing is that ingesting coconut products don't seem to bother me, but then again it's rare that I would ingest it because I hate coconut flavored anything.