Why Shea Butter is Such a Classic Skin Care Ingredient
The Wide-Ranging Benefits of an Amazing Moisturizer
From lotions and body creams to lip balms, soaps, and hair treatments, Shea Butter is a shining star ingredient in skin and personal care products.
In addition to being known for its exceptionally rich moisturizing properties, it’s also well-loved for its versatility as a multi-purpose product. You’d be hard pressed to walk down a personal care aisle without seeing Shea Butter highlighted on bottle after bottle, but what makes it so useful when it comes to caring for our bodies?
What is Shea Butter?
As the name suggests, Shea Butter is indeed a fat. Extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, Shea Butter is typically yellow in its raw state, becomes lighter in color when processed for commercial use, and has a rather nutty aroma. The shea tree grows naturally in 21 countries across Africa, from the savannahs of West Africa, to Sudan in the east, and into the highlands of Ethiopia. Archaeological evidence suggests that the harvesting and production of Shea Butter occurred in Africa as early as the 14th century.
Today, the highest quality Shea Butter is made using a cold-pressed extraction process. Comprised primarily of oleic and stearic acids, it is considered a triglyceride, and while it’s usually used in cosmetics, Shea Butter is also edible and is frequently used in African cuisine.
In addition to oleic and stearic fatty acids, shea butter is also comprised of linoleic, palmitic, linolenic, and arachidic acids. Fatty acids are essential to skin health, as they help to reinforce the skin’s surface, eliminate dehydration, guard against free radical damage and calm sensitivity by locking out external irritants.
Benefits of Using Shea Butter in Skin Care
Shea Butter has been used in skin and personal care across cultures for hundreds of years – and for good reasons. It’s safe, easily accessible, and highly effective at treating a variety of concerns.
The high concentration of vitamins A, E, and fatty acids in Shea Butter makes it a perfect natural moisturizer for your skin. Similar to the sebum your skin naturally produces, Shea Butter can help to alleviate the discomfort associated with dry skin when applied topically.
While it stays solid at room temperature, Shea Butter melts easily in your hands and absorbs quickly into your skin. Its water-binding properties make it an ideal body moisturizer, as it helps lock moisture into your skin. With an SPF of around 6, it also provides you minor UV protection.
A 2010 study found a compound present in Shea Butter, lupeol cinnamate, to be helpful in the treatment of skin inflammation. This makes Shea Butter especially beneficial if you experience serious dryness caused by skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis.
In addition to the moisture and cell membrane protection provided by its fatty acids, Shea Butter supports the skin’s natural collagen production function. When used regularly, Shea Butter can help to soften your skin, which in turn, can reduce the appearance of textured skin due to dryness, irritation, wrinkles, scars, or stretch marks.
How to Use Shea Butter
With so many therapeutic skin benefits, the number of uses for Shea Butter are limited only by your imagination. From soothing skin ailments to imparting moisture where you need it, Shea Butter’s nutritive properties make it an ideal multi-use beauty cabinet staple.
Our favorite uses for shea butter include:
- Soothing skin irritations such as eczema, dermatitis, or minor burns
- Applying to new scars or stretch marks to help support the skin’s natural healing functions
- Massaging into the belly while pregnant to aid in maintaining skin elasticity and help prevent stretch marks
- Incorporating into massage as a body butter
- Smoothing onto sun-parched skin
- Massaging directly into dry cuticles to soften and smooth
- Leaving on as an overnight mask for dry scalp or split ends
- Applied anywhere on the body where a boost of moisture is needed
Who Can Use Shea Butter
The wonderful benefits of Shea Butter aren’t just limited to adults - it can be used on children and infants as well! Shea Butter’s anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties help stave off yeast growth, making it perfect for treating diaper rash.
It can also be used topically on small scratches on the skin to help prevent scarring. Just make sure the wound has started to scab to avoid stinging.
Shea Butter Precautions
While research has found little to back up claims that Shea Butter could cause allergic reactions, those with established nut allergies may want to take caution. If you’re interested in using products that contain Shea Butter, but have a history of nut allergies or are concerned that you may have an allergic reaction, we recommend talking to an allergist before slathering yourself in Shea Butter.
Also, while Shea Butter can be very beneficial when used on your body and in your hair, we recommend limiting use on your face at full strength if you have oily or acne-prone skin types. Instead look for it in pre-made products, formulated by professionals who know how to use it in the correct proportions to benefit your skin. As a general rule of thumb, for facial care, Shea Butter is best suited for dry and ultra-dry skin types.
Storing Shea Butter
Like all cosmetic and personal care products, Shea Butter (or products that include shea butter) have an expiration date. Increase the longevity of your Shea Butter products by storing them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Avoid exposing them to excess moisture, heat, and sunlight.
A good rule of thumb is to replace any Shea Butter products after two years – check if the scent or consistency seems off, if so, you should definitely replace the product instead of risking using something that may have gone bad.
If you’re suffering from dry, flaky, and irritated skin, Shea Butter can be a true skin-saver. The next time you’re on the hunt for a multi-purpose moisturizer, consider adding a Shea Butter-based product to your body care routine.