Shea butter is one of the most underestimated skin care products in the world. Derived from the shea tree (Karite tree), which is native to West Africa, this butter has a range of benefits for skin and hair, and long been used as both a food source and an ingredient in medicines by people living in these arid regions.
In this article I’ll cover the benefits of shea butter for skin. I’ll then discuss how to use it in your own homemade (green) beauty and skincare products.
Below you’ll find:
- A list of the vast benefits of shea butter for skin.
- How to use on the different skin types.
- A list of the most popular shea butter products (including manufacturers).
- How you can buy 100% natural shea butter (organic & unrefined).
A Natural Emollient that Softens and Smooths the Skin’s Surface
Shea butter is high in oleic fatty acids (about 45%), a natural emollient that softens and smooths the skin’s surface. This butter also allows the skin to breathe by providing it with a natural oil that helps keep it from clogging pores. Like cocoa butter, shea butter contains linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) also found in coconut oil. But unlike coconut oil, shea butter has a higher concentration of essential fatty acids and is therefore even more useful for the skin.
Unrefined Shea Butter (which is what I use) is quite thick. I only use refined when I need the butter to add texture to a cream. But to reap all the benefits unrefined has to offer, I apply the shea butter in its natural form (you can also whip it into a skin-nourishing cream of your own creation).
I’ve written many entries on DIY skincare which incorporate Shea butter, for example, this homemade base cream entry which covers a professional way to make a base cream and also easy DIY recipes.
Shea Butter Benefits for Skin
The fatty acids help keep moisture locked in the skin, which makes it less flaky and chapped. Shea butter is especially useful as a moisturizer for dry skin because it is one of the few moisturizers that penetrates the skin, providing much needed moisture to the lower layers of skin. When applied topically, shea is known to restore elasticity to the skin, making it less prone to sagging and wrinkles.
The butter can also alleviate itching and inflammation. The fatty acids it contains thicken moisture so it can prevent water loss. Shea butter also contains vitamins A, E and F which repairs skin damage caused by the sun and other environmental factors.
Shea is also rich in anti-inflammatory agents and can help get rid of inflammation, redness and irritation. It also shows promise in reducing eczema symptoms.
The moisturizing properties of this butter have a protective effect against harmful UV rays from the sun, keeping your skin looking youthful for longer when applied regularly. Shea butter contains anti-oxidants and vitamins that can prevent the appearance of wrinkles.
This butter doesn’t just moisturize your skin. The vitamins and fatty acids in it also heal the skin while providing a protective barrier to keep it moist.
The high levels of Vitamin E (tocopherol) in shea butter help repair the outer layer of skin which is dry, dull and damaged by environmental factors like sun exposure.
The phytosterols, sterolins and triterpenoids it contains also help keep the skin hydrated which is essential to a healthy, youthful-looking complexion.
Shea butter also helps make your skin smoother and more supple by enhancing elasticity.
With regular use, you can expect to see a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Shea butter’s natural anti-inflammatory properties can prevent redness and irritation from acne as well as other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
This butter is also a great option for people with sensitive skin. It is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic which means it won’t clog pores. Additionally, shea butter also contains anti-microbial properties which make it effective at fighting off infection from microbial pathogens and fungi.
Shea butter is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. The fatty acids in this butter are responsible for keeping the skin hydrated by locking moisture into the skin’s outer layers. This ultimately reduces the redness and irritation caused by skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Shea butter also has astringent properties, which means it can tighten the pores and reduce excessive sebum production on the skin. This makes it a great option for people with oily skin who want to keep their skin balanced.
It can stimulate collagen production on the skin , thereby making it a great option for preventing wrinkles. It can also boost the skin’s elasticity, making it an effective ingredient for anti-aging creams and lotions.
1. Anti-Aging Benefits
The high levels of oleic acid help lock moisture into the skin. This moisture can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, keeping your skin looking younger and more vibrant for longer.
Sterols and triterpenoids in the butter can also enhance elasticity and reduce inflammation, which makes it a great option for anti-aging creams and lotions.
Anti-oxidants and vitamins in the butter also help prevent the formation of new wrinkles and can even help treat existing wrinkles by stimulating collagen production on the skin.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
The high levels of anti-inflammatory agents in shea butter can soothe redness and inflammation caused by harmful UV rays from the sun as well as other harmful environmental factors.
Anti-inflammatory agents can also help reduce itching and itching related to eczema, a condition characterized by dry, inflamed and itchy skin.
Anti-inflammatory agents also prove beneficial for people with acne because they can help reduce redness as well as prevent new acne formation.
3. Anti-Microbial Benefits
The anti-microbial properties in shea butter make it effective at fighting off microbial pathogens and fungi on the skin. This makes it an effective solution for people with fungal and bacterial infections. Anti-microbial agents also prevent the growth of new bacteria, which helps prevent acne breakouts. Shea butter can be used to soothe existing acne as well as treat bacterial and fungal infections on the skin.
Types of Skin
Shea Butter on Dry Skin
If you have dry skin, then shea butter is a great option for you. Because it is known for its moisturizing properties, this makes it an effective solution for dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
When applied topically, shea butter can help heal the outer layer of the skin which is damaged by harmful environmental factors like sun exposure and pollution. This butter is perfect for treating dry, scaly skin.
How to use: If you have dry skin, then you can use shea butter to promote elasticity as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. To do this, apply shea butter on your skin after bathing. You can also mix two parts of shea butter with one part of olive oil and apply it on your face after cleansing and before going to bed.
Pro tip: If you have mature skin, add to the mix 2 drops of Frankincense essential oil. This is my all-time-favorite oil for mature skin.
Shea Butter on Oily Skin
If you have oily skin, then shea butter is a great option for keeping your skin balanced. It can help reduce sebum production and keep the skin moisturized.
Sterols and triterpenoids in shea butter help keep your skin hydrated even in harsh weather conditions. Shea butter also works effectively on oily skin because it has anti-microbial properties, which helps keep your skin healthy and clean. This butter is also great for acne prone skin because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
How to use: Apply shea butter to your face and massage it.
Pro tip: Add 2 drops of geranium essential oil to the butter before applying. This essential oil helps balance your skin tone.
Shea Butter on Sensitive Skin
Shea butter is a great option for people with sensitive skin because it is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic.
How to use: Apply shea butter to your face and massage it.
Pro tip: Add 2 drops of lavender essential oil to the butter before applying. This essential oil is very gentle. It helps with inflammation and irritation.
Shea Butter on Normal or Combination Skin
If you have combination skin or normal skin with an oily T-zone, then shea butter can be applied to the entire face to keep your skin balanced. Shea butter works effectively on your face because of its ability to tighten pores and reduce sebum production on the T-zone. It also has anti-inflammatory agents that can help reduce redness and irritation.
How to use: Mix two parts shea butter with one part coconut oil. Apply this mixture on your face after cleansing and before bedtime.
Pro tip: Add 2-3 drops of Rose essential oil for a GLORIOUS facial treatment. Rose essential oil is a wonderful essential oil for everyone with normal/combination skin.
Which Butter to Use?
There’s raw or unrefined, refined and ultra-refined shea butter. Raw or unrefined shea butter is the best option in my opinion as it contains many of the ingredients that can benefit your skin. There’s a difference between raw/unrefined, refined and ultra-refined shea butter so before you buy any of these butters, you have to be careful about how they are produced.
- Raw Shea Butter
This is the purest form of shea butter and is considered raw because it doesn’t undergo any kind of processing or chemical alteration in order to prepare it for use. It has vitamins such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E, sterols and triterpenoids that moisturizes the skin. Raw shea butter can be used for anti-aging purposes as well as other numerous topical applications.
This variety of shea butter can be used on all skin types including sensitive skin.
- Refined Shea Butter
Refined is further processed to make more appealing for use on your skin. The scent has been removed but unfortunately a lot of the healing properties of the butter have also been removed. Any impurities have also been filtered out. This is a good option if you’re looking into using it for the sole purpose of adding thickness and texture to a DIY lip balm or homemade cosmetic (i.e. odourless skincare).
- Ultra-Refined Shea Butter
I believe ultra-refined shea butter does not contain any of the beneficial ingredients that can benefit your skin, and I consider it to be a waste of money. This butter is not recommended for use because it contains no vitamins or any other nutrient.
How to Use Shea Butter on Your Skin
Shea butter can be used in the following ways:
- Apply directly to the skin and massage it in circular motions.
- Add to your favorite DIY cosmetic recipes.
- Add to your favorite homemade skincare recipes.
Incorporate It Into Your Routine
I recommend using shea butter for one week and see how you feel. If your skin feels too greasy after applying it, then you may want to apply just a tiny bit of shea on your skin at first and see how it goes. My first time I added too much butter and hated the oily feel!
Shea butter can feel a little messy (your fingers and hands will feel oily) so please be patient with the process. Oh, and remember to also use shea butter under your eyes. Shea butter is good for skin!
You can incorporate shea butter into your daily routine by taking one week off from using any oils on your face and use only shea butter instead.
If you’re going to incorporate this into your skincare routine, then use it consistently for at least one week. You won’t regret it.