The use of Shea butter for skin care is a beauty tradition that spans thousands of years.
Historical accounts from Ancient Egypt describe caravan convoys carrying jars filled with this valuable substance destined for cosmetic use.
And Cleopatra herself, famed for her beauty, demanded that supplies were carried everywhere she travelled so that each day she could apply it to her skin.
Today you can find it included in a variety of cosmetic preparations, and it’s become a favorite of natural skin care enthusiasts.
Its ability to deeply moisturize the skin is no secret, but its powers go well beyond that.
In this article, I’ll show you the benefits that this time-tested beautifying butter has for your skin, and the many uses that people have found for it.
- 1 What Is Shea Butter?
- 2 Shea Butter Benefits For Skin
- 3 Shea Butter Uses
- 4 How To Use Raw Shea Butter For Skin
- 5 What Kind Of Shea Butter Is Best?
- 6 Side Effects And Precautions
- 7 How To Store Shea Butter
- 8 Common Questions That People Ask
What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is the ivory colored (or off-white) fatty substance that is collected after extraction from the nuts produced by Vitellaria paradoxa (formerly Butyrospermum parkii), commonly known as the African Shea tree.
The Shea tree is found naturally in West Africa where it grows wild in the savanna belt from Senegal to Sudan, and in the hills of Ethiopia.
The tree is considered sacred by local communities and has religious and cultural significance. It’s prized for its healing properties, with various parts of it used in traditional medicine to cure a range of health complaints.
How Is It Made?
The traditional process of making Shea butter involves:
These days the best Shea butter is also made using a cold press extraction to produce a very high-quality product that retains as much of its beneficial nutrients as possible (1).
Shea Butter Composition
Shea butter contains a saponifiable fraction that is rich in fatty acids such as stearic and oleic acid, as well as an unsaponifiable fraction that contains the bioactive substances that give it its medicinal and healing properties.
These bioactive substances include antioxidants such as vitamin E and catechins, cell regenerating vitamin A, anti-inflammatory triterpene alcohols, and cinnamic acid esters (2).
What makes Shea butter of particular interest compared to most other natural oils is the large unsaponifiable fraction that it contains. In the majority of seed oils, this bioactive fraction makes up only about 1% of the oil.
But in Shea butter this medicinal fraction ranges from around 5-17%. The better the quality of the Shea butter the greater the medicinal fraction tends to be.
Is Shea Butter Good For Skin?
Shea butter has traditionally been used to relieve skin complaints, protect the skin from the sun and the environment, and for its ability to act as an emollient and moisturizer.
This has led to its use in a wide range of cosmetic products including Shea butter lotions, moisturizing creams, and soaps.
While scientific studies into its effectiveness are small in number, they have confirmed some beneficial properties of this natural skin care treatment.
Shea Butter Benefits For Skin
Shea butter has a number of key benefits when applied to the skin that are responsible for its many uses:
Scientific studies on Shea butter have shown that it has beneficial anti-aging properties when applied regularly.
It contains antioxidants like vitamin E and catechins that help to protect the skin from the damage caused by free radicals induced by ultraviolet rays from the sun (4). Cinnamate esters of the triterpene alcohols it contains have also been shown to be capable of absorbing UV radiation providing sun protection.
In addition the triterpenes lupeol and α-amyrin that are present in its unsaponifiable fraction inactivate enzymes in your skin that are responsible for the degradation of collagen and elastin.
Studies in rats have also indicated that Shea butter can boost collagen production.
This ability to protect and boost the production of the structural proteins in your skin is key to its anti-aging properties.
Maintaining collagen and elastin in your skin helps to prevent the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and loose skin.
In one clinical study on 30 people Shea butter successfully reduced various signs of aging.
In another study carried out on 49 volunteers who applied Shea butter twice a day to their skin, it was observed to prevent the effects of photo-aging (2).
Shea Butter Uses
People have been using Shea butter for a variety of skin care purposes for thousands of years. While science is yet to confirm some of these, here is a collection of the uses that people have found for it:
How To Use Raw Shea Butter For Skin
High quality Shea butter is a creamy and soft solid that can be easily melted in your hands, just like any other butter, and is absorbed quickly by the skin.
It can be used on its own or combined with other beneficial natural skin care ingredients.
Here are some recipes that you can try:
On Its Own
Shea Butter And Lavender oil For Skin
Most people enjoy the smell of lavender oil, and it has anti-aging properties as well.
Directions For Use:
1. Get some Shea butter and a bottle of lavender essential oil
2. Place 2 tablespoons of the Shea butter in a bowl
3. If the Shea butter is solid, then first gently warm it using a double boiler
4. Add 10 drops of lavender oil and mix the ingredients together well
5. Use your fingers to gently spread it over your skin
6. Keep any excess in a sealed container in a dry and cool place
Shea Butter And Aloe Vera For Skin
The addition of Aloe vera gel makes the Shea butter softer and very easy to work with, while providing extra moisturizing and soothing properties. You can add an essential oil of your choice if you like.
Directions For Use:
1. Get some Shea butter, Aloe vera gel, and an essential oil of your choice
2. Get a medium bowl and put approximately 4 tablespoons of room temperature Shea butter into the bowl. Use a double boiler to soften the butter if it's hard
3. Whip it using a hand mixer until it has a creamy consistency
4. Add 2 tablespoons of Aloe vera gel to the bowl
5. Add 15 drops of essential oil and mix the ingredients together using the mixer on a low speed
6. You can apply the mixture to your skin using your fingers
7. Put the excess mixture in a container with a lid, and keep it in a cool and dry place
What Kind Of Shea Butter Is Best?
To get the full range of healthy benefits for your skin it’s important to get the right type of Shea butter as not all is created equal.
Here are some things to consider:
Shea butter can be tested by the American Shea Butter Institute to confirm its quality. Premium Shea butter is grade A.
Shea butter that has been certified as grade A is ideal to use on your skin as you can be more confident that you are getting a product that's rich in beneficial phytonutrients, and that doesn't contain any contaminants or additional unwanted ingredients.
It's best to use a Shea butter that is raw, unrefined, and organic.
Although widely available, the problem with refined Shea butter is that the overall process involved in refining Shea butter can lead to the loss of some of its beneficial nutrients and associated properties.
Also, it's often bleached and has its fragrance removed.
In addition, the extraction process can involve the use of chemicals like hexane.
Unrefined Shea butter is extracted without the use of chemicals and doesn't have chemical preservatives added.
Ideally, you should look to use a Shea butter that has been extracted using a cold press. This means that excessive heating won't have been involved in the process.
Excessive heating can destroy some of the phytonutrients contained in the butter.
Cold pressed Shea butter also tends to have a milder nutty smell.
Side Effects And Precautions
How To Store Shea Butter
Here are some guidelines for keeping and storing Shea butter:
Common Questions That People Ask
Can Shea butter be eaten?
Shea butter is edible, and in fact it’s often found in chocolate confectionery where it’s used as a substitute for cocoa butter.
Can Shea butter help acne?
Many people have found that Shea butter has helped with clearing up their acne. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help to prevent the painful red swellings that characterize the condition. But this use is not scientifically proven.
Does Shea butter expire and go bad?
Raw Shea butter does have a shelf life of between 1-2 years depending on how well it’s kept. Refined Shea butter often has preservatives added to it to make it last longer.
Can Shea butter heal scars?
Some people claim that Shea butter has helped with their scars. It appears to have the ability to increase collagen in the skin, but as of yet its ability to improve scars is unproven.
Does Shea butter clog pores?
Shea butter has a rating of 0 on the comedogenic scale. This means that it does not clog skin pores.
Can Shea butter clear dark spots and skin pigmentation?
Anecdotal evidence from people who’ve tried using it for skin lightening purposes suggests that Shea butter can help to fade dark spots, blemishes, and marks on the skin.
Does Shea butter have spf?
Due to its ability to absorb some UV radiation it does have a low sun protection factor. You should still be careful about sun exposure when using it, as it will not provide adequate protection on its own to prolonged exposure.
Does Shea butter melt?
It melts easily in the fingers when rubbed.
Is Shea butter vegan?
Pure Shea butter is 100% natural and made from plants, so it’s vegan friendly.
Is Shea butter good for oily skin?
Shea butter can be used by people with oily skin. It’s non-comedogenic, but you should keep a close eye on how your skin reacts.
Is Shea butter good for eczema?
A small scientific study has suggested that Shea butter can work as an emollient for eczema (6).
Should Shea butter be white or yellow?
Raw unrefined Shea butter is usually an ivory or off-white color. This can sometime appear a little bit yellow. White Shea butter is usually refined.
Should Shea butter be grainy?
It’s normal that raw Shea butter can sometimes have a grainy texture. This happens when the butter is melted slightly and then cools again.
Will Shea butter help sunburn?
Yes, it can help to soothe sunburn. It moisturizes the skin and it contains vitamin E which can help to minimize the damage even after exposure.