You all know I’m a fan of using coconut oil on skin and hair, but another all-star natural moisturizer for these uses and more around the home is shea butter. (Something about the name just even sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?)
Shea butter is very thick and solid at room temperature but has a buttery rich consistency that makes it ideal for use as a natural eye cream, lip balm, or body butter. Many studies show that it is especially good at penetrating the skin and contains 60% fat, making it highly emollient.
Thanks to some other special properties, shea butter does more than moisturize … it delivers key anti-inflammatory and anti-aging components right into the skin.
What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a skin superfood that comes from the seeds of the fruit of the Shea (Karite) tree and that is naturally rich in vitamins A, E and F. It offers UV protection (it is SPF ~6) and provides the skin with essential fatty acids and the nutrients necessary for collagen production.
Shea butter has been used in Africa and many other locations for years to improve skin and hair. It also has a long history of medicinal use, such as in wound care and even treating leprosy.
It’s also not uncommon in that part of the world to eat shea butter as well, much as we use palm oil in products. There’s differing opinions on whether or not it’s healthy to eat, and since some studies suggest that ingesting shea butter may interfere with the digestion of other proteins, I use it externally only.
Shea Butter Benefits
- Moisturizing: The concentration of natural vitamins and fatty acids in shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for skin. It is often used to remedy dry skin and to help protect the skin’s natural oils.
- Reduces Inflammation: A 2010 study found that due to its cinnamic acid and other natural properties, shea butter was anti-inflammatory. One compound in particular, lupeol cinnamate, was found to reduce skin inflammation and even potentially help avoid skin mutations. This also makes it beneficial for some people with acne.
- Skin Smoothing: Shea butter aids in the skin’s natural collagen production and contains oleic, stearic, palmitic, and linolenic acids that protect and nourish the skin to prevent drying. With long-term use, many people report skin softening and strengthening as well as wrinkle reduction.
The good news is, it’s great to use on kids and babies too!
Ways to Use Shea Butter
Shea butter is one of the most versatile natural beauty ingredients and I use it daily in some form. I’ve used it for years in everything from my homemade lotion bars and original magnesium body butter to homemade lip balms and healing salves.
Some of my favorite uses for shea butter:
- By itself for face and body as a natural moisturizer
- In a shea butter lotion bar stick for easy use
- After sun or beach exposure to replenish skin
- Alone or in a pregnancy salve to ward off stretch marks
- As a natural cuticle cream
- As the best under-eye wrinkle remover and bag-reducer
- As a massage butter
- In my homemade velvety soft whipped body butter
- On sore/raw noses during a cold or flu
- Added to basic homemade lotion
- On scars to naturally help collagen production
- As a base for homemade deodorant
- By itself for low-grade sun protection
- Whipped into magnesium body butter
- As a natural baby-care product (alone) or ingredient in baby care recipes
- By itself on the lips or in homemade lip balms
- In a homemade shimmer lip balm
- On the eyelids before applying makeup to make it last longer
- To improve skin elasticity (some even say it helps with cellulite)
- On the hair or scalp (in mixture with other natural ingredients)
- In homemade liquid creme foundation and makeup
TIP: If the shea butter is too thick for what you’re trying to do, melt it over very low heat and then use. Do not let it get close to boiling or you will lose beneficial properties. You can also emulsify it with other oils using the technique in my lotion recipe.
What Kind of Shea Butter Is Better?
There is a huge variation in the quality of shea butter depending on the manufacturer, so if you’ve tried shea butter before and haven’t liked it, it may have been the brand.
The American Shea Butter Institute warns that one of the main healing components in shea butter, cinnamic acid, is less present in inferior brands. They have issued classifications of different grades of quality, and the best grade with the highest cinnamic acid content is Grade A.
I only use raw, unrefined, Grade A shea butter. There are many refined ones that are odor free and bleached to be completely white, but the refining process removes some of the beneficial properties.
Which to Buy
I order this one and have had great results, but good shea butter brands can also be found at many local health food stores. When it comes to choosing a better shea butter, just look for one that is:
- Grade A
Caution: Before Using
If you get unrefined shea butter, that means it has not been filtered and may contain trace particles of the shea nut. I often gently heat my shea butter until it just melts and then pour through a cheesecloth or strainer to remove any particles. Once strained, I pour the shea butter into these (or any) silicone molds in pre-measured amounts (tablespoons, 1/4 cup, etc.) so that it is ready to use for natural beauty recipes.
Storing Shea Butter
I’m only comfortable using shea butter externally. Ask a doc or dermatologist before using, especially with underlying skin conditions. Those with nut allergies should avoid or check with an allergist.
Store shea butter out of direct light or heat. Several sources suggest shea butter may go rancid or expire within 12-24 months, but since it has so many uses I never have a jar of it that long. Leave it out on your bathroom counter and watch it disappear!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Ever used shea butter? How did it work for you?