Benefits of Shea Butter for Skin + How to Use It

You've probably heard of shea butter or seen it in the ingredient lists of your moisturizers, hair conditioners, and lip balms. But do you know what shea butter exactly is and what's it doing in your skincare?

August 11, 2021 5 minutes read
Shea butter and shea tree nuts

In This Post

Shea butter is a common ingredient in cosmetic products for the face, hair, and body. And if you have dry skin prone to flakiness, you've likely stumbled upon this ingredient in a number of your skincare products. And for a reason!

Shea butter rightly enjoys massive popularity in the world of beauty as it offers an array of incredible benefits – from soothing eczema to softening signs of aging.

If you're curious about why this precious ingredient is so precious, you're at the right place! In this article, we'll dive into its skin benefits and share some tips on how to use it in skincare.

But first, let's find out what it exactly is.

What Is Shea Butter?

shea butter in a wooden bowl

Shea butter comes from distant Africa, where it has been used since ancient times for skincare, hair care, and overall health. It's extracted from the nuts of the African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), then processed until it becomes an oil. When the oil cools, we get a fat-like or butter-like consistency that's ivory or slightly off-white in color. We get a true gift from nature – Shea butter.

shea butter nuts

Since Shea trees originate from West Africa, most Shea butter found in your skincare products still comes from this region.

Traditionally praised for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, shea butter has been used for treating a myriad of health issues, such as nasal congestion, ulcers, and eczema. Nowadays, however, it's mostly cherished for its tried-and-tested skincare benefits.

Benefits of Shea Butter for Skin

young woman with beautiful skin

Packed with essential fatty acids (linoleic, oleic, and stearic acid) as well as vitamins (like vitamin A, E, and D), shea butter has potent emollient and antioxidant properties. Therefore, it's often used in cosmetics as a moisturizer and conditioner for skin and hair.

It's suitable for any skin type, including oily, as it melts at body temperature and is quickly absorbed into the skin.

Here are some of the most amazing shea butter skin benefits:

#1: It's Moisturizing.

Thanks to its high fatty acids content, shea butter is great for moisturizing and calming dry, flaky skin and chapped lips. It can restore your skin's natural barrier, protecting it from the outside environment and locking the moisture in [source]. For this reason, it's a go-to ingredient for dry and cold winter months.

#2: It Has Anti-Aging Properties.

Shea butter contains an abundance of antioxidants [source], such as vitamins A and E, polyphenols, and triterpenes. These compounds help promote collagen production and help prevent collagen breakdown.

#3: It's Anti-Inflammatory.

Thanks to a number of plant esters found in shea tree kernel fat, shea butter possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties for soothing and nourishing upset skin [source]. Therefore, it's often found in products that treat inflammatory skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis. It's also proven effective in healing sunburns and is often included as a moisturizing ingredient in sunscreens.

#4: Helps With Acne and Acne Scars.

Shea tree bark contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, which may translate to shea butter [source]. This means that shea butter may help reduce acne. In addition, thanks to its emollient properties, high content of fatty acids and vitamin E, shea butter can help heal and lighten acne scars as well as minor cuts and scrapes.

#5: It's Suitable for Oily Skin.

Besides being highly beneficial for dry and chapped skin and lips, shea butter is an excellent moisturizing ingredient for oily skin as well. A nicely balanced combination of linoleic and oleic acid in shea butter makes it suitable for oily and acne-prone skin.

While oleic acid acts as a strong occlusive and emollient, linoleic acid will make your natural face oils thinner and less heavy. In addition, shea butter is highly absorbent and won't clog your pores or leave your skin feeling greasy.

How to Use Shea Butter

woman applying shea butter to her face

You can use this superfood for the skin on its own and raw. Or, you can mix it up with other ingredients and DIY shea butter lip balms, body creams, or face moisturizers. It's up to you!

If you're not a fan of making your own skincare products, here are some essential tips on how you can use shea butter alone:

#1: Shea Butter for Skin

Shea butter makes for an excellent moisturizer for both the face and body. Its high fatty acid content is undoubtedly responsible for its softening and moisturizing properties. They can lock the moisture in the skin and keep it hydrated for a longer period of time.

It's proven ideal as a full-body moisturizer, especially during cold winter months when our skin tends to be extra dry and needs more nourishment. Before applying it to your skin, rub it between your palms to make the butter melt a bit. That way, your skin will absorb it faster.

If you want to give your face some hydration boost with shea butter, it would be best to apply it to damp skin. Additionally, reserve it for your nighttime routine, as it doesn't really gel well with makeup.

You can also use shea butter for dry and cracked feet and heels as well as elbows. Additionally, you can treat your dry cuticles with it.

#2: Shea Butter for Hair

If your hair is looking a little dull and frizzy, shea butter can bring it back to life. You can apply it to dry hair before washing it and leave it on for several hours to work its magic. Then rinse it off. Also, you can use it as a leave-in conditioner and apply it to wet hair after washing.

In any case, you should focus on your ends and avoid the roots, especially if you have thin and oily hair. It can lead to quicker oil build-up and essentially make your hair look greasy and stringy.

Shea Butter: Quick Buyer's Guide

shea butter cosmetic products

To get all those benefits shea butter boasts, you should pick what you buy wisely. Choose shea butter products that are labeled as unrefined as this means that the product wasn't heavily processed and will likely contain all of its original nutrients.

On the other hand, refined products usually undergo various production processes and chemical alterations to improve the color of shea butter (make it whiter) and add artificial scents. During this process, however, shea butter can lose up to 75% of its active ingredients and, therefore, lose its efficacy and potency.

Besides reading labels, another useful guide while shopping for your next favorite shea butter product would be checking out its grade. According to ASBI (American Shea Butter Institute), there are five grades of shea butter, from A to F – A being the most nutrient-rich and F being unfit for human use.


If your goal is velvety soft skin with fewer lines and wrinkles, this superhero skincare ingredient might just be what you need. Packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, shea butter has plenty of powerful skin benefits to offer (so much power in such a tiny nut). On top of all, it's an all-purpose ingredient suitable for any skin type and a variety of skin conditions.


Does shea butter lighten skin?

Thanks to the high content of vitamin D, shea butter can potentially lighten your skin and help with fading acne scars and dark spots.

Does shea butter make you look younger?

There are plenty of antioxidants in shea butter, including vitamins A and E, polyphenols, and triterpenes. These have an anti-aging effect on the skin because they promote collagen production and protect the skin against free radical damage. Hence it can indeed make you look younger.

What can I mix with shea butter for glowing skin?

For extremely dry skin, you can mix shea butter and coconut oil. If you have oily skin prone to acne, you can mix shea butter with jojoba oil or aloe vera gel.

Which shea butter is best for face?

If you want to use shea butter as a face moisturizer, make sure to go for products that are unrefined. This means that the butter wasn't heavily processed and will likely contain all of its original skin-loving ingredients.

Can I use shea butter on my face during the day?

If you don't plan to wear makeup that day, you could apply shea butter to your face in the morning. However, if you want to wear makeup, you shouldn't apply shea butter before because makeup won't sit well over it. Shea butter may cause your foundation to pill up.

...Liked what you read?