You all know I’m a fan of using coconut oil and olive oil on skin and hair, but another all-star natural moisturizer around the home is pure shea butter. (Something about the name just even sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?)
Whether or not you have dry skin like me, you’ll love shea butter’s benefits. It can bring oily and combination skin types back into balance too. (My teens love it for this reason.)
This luxurious butter is very thick and solid at room temperature but has a buttery, rich consistency that makes it ideal to use as a natural eye cream, lip balm, or body butter.
Thanks to other unique properties, shea butter does more than moisturize and hydrate. It delivers vital health benefits like being anti-inflammatory and transporting anti-aging fatty acids right into the skin.
Many recommend it for sunburns or dark spots. It’s especially great for sensitive skin. There are so many shea butter benefits and uses!
So what exactly is it?
What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a fat produced from the seeds and kernels of the shea (Karite) tree. The shea tree is native to West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its butter has been used internally and externally for centuries across the continent to soothe the skin.
This ancient African remedy is off-white and solid at room temperature, but it doesn’t leave your skin too greasy.
This skin superfood has been used in Africa and many other places 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.
While cocoa butter is hard at body temperature and coconut oil is liquid, shea butter is in between them as it starts to melt at body temperature when you touch it. This unique quality makes it easier to handle, cut, and measure than other moisturizers.
I love how it quickly absorbs, so it doesn’t stain clothes.
Shea tree butter has a strong, nutty, kind of earthy honey smell, likely from the cinnamic acid when you open the lid. (Don’t worry, you won’t feel like you smell like shea nuts for the rest of the day after using it.)
Shea Butter Benefits for Health
So what are the benefits of raw shea butter?
Shea butter is more than just a nice lotion or butter for dry skin. It is nutrient-rich and may help with some skin conditions when part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Moisturizes – The concentration of natural vitamins and fatty acids in shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for the skin. It remedies dry skin and helps protect the skin’s natural oils.
- Reduces Inflammation – Due to its cinnamic acid and other natural properties, shea butter is anti-inflammatory. One compound, in particular, lupeol cinnamate, reduces skin inflammation and even potentially helps prevent skin mutations. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it beneficial for acne.
- Smoothes Skin – Shea aids in natural collagen production and nourishes the skin to prevent drying. With long-term use, many people report skin softening and strengthening as well as wrinkle reduction.
- Penetrates Skin – Many studies show that it is especially good at penetrating the skin and contains 60% fat, making it highly emollient (similar to how almond and jojoba oil polish the skin.) It’s high in essential fatty acids, which help build the skin barrier.
- Provides Essential Fatty Acids – What makes shea butter unique is the fatty acid profile. In addition to cinnamic acid, shea contains oleic, stearic, linoleic, palmitic, arachidic, and linolenic acid. Together, these make it the perfect boost for cellular energy and regeneration.
- Gives UV Protection – It may offer mild UV protection, up to SPF ~6.
- Supplies Vitamins A and E – High in these nutrients, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties on the skin may also help with dermatitis and psoriasis.
- Reduces Joint Pain – A 2016 study found that it relieves the symptoms of osteoarthritis in rats and protects cartilage from destruction and degeneration.
More good news: it’s great to use on kids and babies too! A 2015 pediatric study demonstrated an eczema cream with shea butter to perform just as well as the standard ceramide products. In addition, it had a high compliance rate which means that the kids didn’t mind using it.
I’ve only ever used it externally. Ask a doctor or dermatologist before using, especially if you or your family have any underlying skin conditions.
Additionally, those with nut allergies should avoid or check with an allergist. Heating it does not remove the allergic risk.
What Are Some Good Uses for Shea Butter?
Here’s one you may not expect: some nationalities cook with/eat shea butter! (I have not tried it, but if you have, let me know in the comments!) I’ve even seen it in some chocolate recipes.
There are differing opinions on whether or not it’s healthy to eat. Since some studies suggest that ingesting shea butter may interfere with the digestion of other proteins, I use it externally only.
There are so many other uses for it externally. You can use shea alone or easily combined with other natural care products and ingredients.
Shea butter is one of the most versatile natural beauty ingredients, and I use it daily in some form. For years, I’ve used it in everything from my homemade lotion bars and original magnesium body butter to homemade lip balms and healing salves.
It has many hydrating benefits, and not just for the skin! You’ll also find shea butter in many hair products.
Shea Butter for Hair
Unless you have thick beautiful curls, pure shea butter by itself will weigh down your hair, but it’s lovely mixed into natural hair care. You won’t see it as the first ingredient—it’s usually further down. Sometimes, ingredients list it as “Butyrospermum Parkii” with shea in parentheses.
For years, I searched for a natural shampoo and conditioner that actually worked without having harsh or toxic ingredients. When I could not find it, I made my own skin and hair care line, Wellnesse.
Shea butter works well on both the hair and scalp. That’s why we use it as one of the main ingredients in my Wellnesse Curly Conditioner.
It helps seal cuticles for healthy and bouncy curls. It may help prevent breakage due to its high fatty acid content and mild UV protection.
If you struggle with dandruff, shea may help your scalp.
Shea Butter for Skin
I also love to use shea on my skin, both by itself and combined with other ingredients. It’s so easy to add to my skincare routine. Even though it feels thick, it melts right into my skin when I rub it.
So what does shea butter do for skin? Some of my favorite skincare uses are:
- By itself for face and body as a natural moisturizer
- Before sun or beach exposure to replenish skin
- After sunburns to hydrate the skin
- To ward off stretch marks
- As a natural nail and cuticle cream
- To plump up the delicate tissue and fine lines around the eyes
- On sore and raw noses during a cold or flu
- On scars to naturally help collagen production (I used it on my c-section scar!)
- By itself for low-grade sun protection
- To soothe dry and cracked feet and hands
- As a natural baby-care product
- By itself on the lips
- On the eyelids before applying makeup to make it last longer
- To improve skin elasticity (some even say it helps with cellulite)
- To lighten skin and reduce dark spots
- As a method to reduce acne blemishes and acne scars
- To prevent insect bites
In addition to using it by itself, it works well in many DIY personal care recipes.
In my homemade products, I like to mix shea with essential oils. I use it to help with dryness and anti-aging in all of these DIY recipes:
- In a lotion bar stick for easy use
- In a pregnancy salve for stretch marks
- As the best under-eye wrinkle remover and bag remover
- In my homemade velvety soft whipped body butter
- Whipped into a magnesium body butter
- As a massage butter
- In homemade liquid creme foundation and makeup
- As a base for homemade deodorant
- Added to homemade lotion
- As an ingredient in baby care recipes
- In a homemade shimmer lip balm
You can also emulsify it with other oils using the technique in my lotion recipe to get the most health benefits out of it.
What Kind Is Better?
There is a vast variation in the quality of shea butter, depending on the manufacturer and source. A 2010 study found that Eastern African shea tree nuts had significantly higher fat and oleic acid contents than Western countries. On the other hand, Western African shea butter is higher in stearic acid.
If you’ve tried shea butter before and haven’t liked it, try a different brand or check the expiration date. Shea butter may go rancid after 2-3 years, especially if it’s been exposed to heat or sunlight.
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 quality grades, and the best with the highest cinnamic acid content is Grade A.
I only use raw, unrefined, Grade A shea butter. Many refined ones are odor-free and bleached to be white. The refining process removes some of the beneficial properties like antioxidants and vitamins. I also don’t want to put bleach on my skin if I can help it.
If you have a container of it laying around, I’d still finish that up and then be sure to buy some Grade A when you run out.
To get the most antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory power, here is what to buy.
The Best Shea Butter to Buy
I order this raw shea butter and have had great results, but you can also find good shea butter brands at many local health food stores. When it comes to choosing a better raw shea butter, just look for one that is:
- Grade A
Choosing a shea butter with these claims will help you avoid solvents and other toxic chemicals sometimes used during the extraction process.
(If you have a Thrive Market membership, their brand is also fair trade.)
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, hull, or kernels. To prevent irritated skin, you’ll want to strain it. The tiny pieces can be rough, even if you don’t feel them.
I often gently heat mine until it just melts (around 110?) and then pour through a cheesecloth or strainer to remove any particles. Once strained, I dump it into these (or any) silicone molds in pre-measured amounts (tablespoons, ¼ cup, etc.) to be ready for natural beauty recipes.
Tips for Using and Storing Shea Butter
- Store it out of direct light or heat. Several sources suggest it may go rancid or expire within 12-24 months, but I never have a jar of it that long since it has so many uses.
- If your shea butter gets crumbly, it may be a little cold. Holding it between your hands to warm it will help it soak in well.
- TIP for use in DIY: If the shea butter is too thick, hard, or crumbly for what you’re trying to do, hold it in your hands for a moment to warm it. If needed, melt it over low heat (about 110 degrees) and then use. Do not let it get close to boiling, or you may lose some of the most beneficial healing properties.
The benefits of shea butter are vast! It’s an excellent part of your natural skincare routine arsenal. How will you and your family use it? 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.
Have you ever used shea butter? How did it work for you?
Discussion (186 Comments)
I LOVE Shea butter!!! It doesn’t make my skin break out the way coconut oil does because I have acne-prone skin and works so well on dry skin and hair in the winter.
Hi I have a question! My face is really dry and i would love to use this on my face. What do you prefer, straight natural Shea Butter or mix it up to make a lotion? Thank you in advance!
Katie - Wellness Mama
You can use it straight
If it is mixed with other things like coconut oil and jojoba will it still have the same amount of beneficial use?
Hi Katie, i used to have hyperpigmentation and started applying a mixture of lemon and potatoe on face but then my skin started to peel leaving the new skin feeling tight, silky and it burned when i applied my mosturiser. I do not know whether this is a good thing and if my skin will be better…. am even afraid to continue using the mixture i still have hyperpigmentation here and there…. I thought it was helping, but now am not so sure. PLEASE HELP!! ??
I think it would help I you stopped using the lemon juice. It is known to be quite harsh!
I hope your skin has improved now!
I also inloved with shea butter. I’m using it in another 2 ways: 1) as nails and nails cuticles softener, sometimes mixing with almond or jojoba oil for better absorbtion and hydration – just gentle massaging every evening before bed; 2) for the feets also – after exfoliation massage into feets, put the socks on and leave them during the night. Magically soft feets, especially effective during the summertime 🙂
I used shea butter as a body cream,loved it but now I’m using coconut oil it smells divine and I also use it for my hair and cooking.
I found a sample of Shea Butter whipped body cream given to me buy a seller on Etsy. I thought… what’s the harm in trying it on my face? Even if I break out, it will eventually clear up. So I tried it and it’s the absolute best thing I’ve ever done for my face. Within 2 days (I kid you not!), my severely dry and dull face has life again! I couldn’t believe what a difference two days makes. I don’t think I will ever use anything else on my face – though I will add different essential oils to the shea/coconut oil recipe!! Absolute favorite!! ?
I am 54 and still have acne. But I scared so easily that I tried the 100% Shea butter on my scars and found that it healed the scars and cleared the horrible acne scars after a few weeks. I have to use concealer on my face and I’m so self-conscious that this is a God send. I have scars on my arms that have started to clear and use it for my scalp and under eyes and hair.
Coconut oil either after a baking soda scrub or mixed with baking soda. Then apply the coconut oil. Its 15x better at preventing acne, repairs sun damage, is an antioxidant and contains vit e and pro vit a.
The bs alone may be too acidic but it will even out your skin (add some lemon juice).
Still finish with coconut oil to balance your ph levels.
This is my first time to use African shea butter so I’ll let you know how it works later thank you
I have been using shea butter for a year and a half now and love it. I put it on my lips at bedtime and in the morning after washing my face letting it moisturize while I put on my makeup. I cannot believe I used to use vaseline for bedtime. I also use the shea butter around my eyes or any dry spots, at first it’s firm but if I let my little blob sit for a couple of seconds on my warm skin it melts enough to spread. A great staple to have in your healthy natural beauty routine.
Because of a severe coconut allergy, I found shea butter through a paramedic friend of the family. I have loved it and used it for absolutely everything, even in spaghetti noodles at the last minute when I found we were out of oil and butter!!! I’ve used it on my rough feet, my hubbie’s rough feet, and as a massage agent on his devastating cancer scars. This stuff is a miracle in a jar, and I cannot say enough nice things about it.
For your whipped bodybutter what do you think of using almond oil instead of cocoa or mango butter?
It will have a lighter consistency, but you could certainly try it…
It may be softer and more liquidy, but you can play around with the ratio. Also, beeswax is great to add to harden up the consistency of something.
I substituted with almond oil and it turned out very nice
I love me some Shea Butter!
Haven’t tried it around the eyes for wrinkles, but it did take the sting out of my eye when I rubbed my eye after chopping jalapenos! I didn’t put it in my eye, just along the lash line. It worked pretty much instantly.
Also it takes the sting out of jellyfish stings.
And I always use it for chapped lips especially for the kids – They don’t like anything minty and the shea butter is so soothing.
Is Shea Butter still considered raw when it’s heated? Like for the homemade lotions and stuff? Or are the benefits best if it is used just raw out of the jar? Does the heating/melting process make it not raw anymore?
Katie - Wellness Mama
It just heats to about 110 degrees to melt so it keeps the benefits. It is never brought to a boil or even close…
Is Shea Butter good for oily skin too? Because I have REALLY oily skin.
Its perfect for oily skin
I have oily skin also, but since I’ve been putting shea butter on my face at night (after washing) as a moisturizer, I’ve noticed my face doesn’t get as oily during the day. It also doesn’t make me break out at all. I was really hesitant about putting “butter” on my face, especially since it feels a little greasy, but I’ve tried it every night for the past month or so, and I love it. It absorbs well, doesn’t make me break out, mouisturizes my face, and has actually improved my acne scars a bit. I can’t live without this stuff
Please does Shea butter help in removing sport (pimples)?
In my experience and opinion, oily skin is your skins way of saying nourish and moisturise me, I’m not getting enough oils. Shea butter is an excellent way to treat your skin. Before I discovered it, I had oily skin in the T Zone, but now I have no such issues. Makes a fabulous hand cream too. I could never live without my Shea Butter!
I’ve been using Shea butter on my skin cancers on my face for almost a year now and my cancers are almost completely gone. I wish I had taken before and after pictures. I’m 60 years old and look look 20 years younger. Shea butter is a miracle!