Shea butter is an ivory or cream color fat derived from the nut of the African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). Shea butter is an edible fat rich in vitamins A, D, E, and F and its numerous benefits date back to ancient times.1 In fact, the healing properties of shea butter are so powerful that in the Wolof language of Senegal, the Shea tree is called the karite tree, meaning “The Tree of Life.”
Shea butter has taken off in a big way in recent years due to its remarkable moisturizing and healing properties. This also makes it a favorite with the cosmetics industry. Shea butter is proven to have antioxidant properties due to its tocopherol content.2 It has anti-inflammatory properties as well thanks to the triterpene alcohols in it.3
Is Shea Butter Better Than Its Peers?
Good question! Most seed oils are classified into saponifiable fractions (with moisturizing properties) and non-saponifiable fractions (with healing properties). Shea butter is remarkable in that it has an unusually high non-saponifiable fraction (5–17 percent) which makes it your skin’s best friend! Other seed oils have a much lower healing fraction (around 1 percent).
Let’s also delve deeper into some of the benefits of this miracle butter.
Benefits Of Shea Butter For Skin
1. Moisturizes Dry Skin
Shea butter is a highly effective moisturizer for all-over body care. Its biochemical properties mimic the characteristics found in the moisturizers released by our very own sebaceous glands. And, since it’s a naturally occurring lipid, it has natural emollient properties. That’s why shea butter is such a staple today in body lotions, body butters, lip balms, hand lotions, soaps, ointments, face creams, and eye creams.6
Organic shea butter, 100 percent pure, is readily available today and you can slather it on anywhere on your body (after a shower works best) that needs extra moisturizing. It also works wonders for generally dry skin that is prone to flaking or roughness. In fact, The American Academy of Dermatology recommends shea butter for treating dry skin.
2. Prevents Stretch Marks
Due to its vitamin E content, shea butter is excellent for preventing and/or diminishing pregnancy-related stretch marks. Applying shea butter all over your belly and hips liberally throughout your pregnancy (not just once you start showing) and post-delivery will keep your skin supple and increase its elasticity, thereby minimizing the appearance of stretch marks. It has been traditionally used for centuries by African women.8
3. Treats Acne And Blemishes, And Reduces Scars
Shea butter is good at preventing as well as treating acne, including adult acne. It also helps lighten and reduce the appearance of redness and scarring associated with acne. If you use acne-related skincare products, chances are they contain retinol (vitamin A). Well, shea butter is naturally rich in vitamin A, so if it bothers you to use harsh chemicals for getting rid of your acne, shea butter offers a natural alternative with the same retinol-rich properties.9
4. Provides Immediate Relief To Itchy And Peeling Skin
Shea butter contains alpha-amyrin acetate, a chemical compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties.10 It brings immediate relief to itchy skin, insect bites, rashes and related redness (including diaper rashes), and skin prone to peeling after sunburn.
5. Helps With Shaving
As a natural moisturizer, shea butter can help you attain a silky smooth shave. Using shea butter while shaving (for both men and women) can help reduce razor burns and bumps and allows the razor blade to glide close to the skin for an ultra-close shave. You can also use shea butter as an aftershave moisturizer for baby-butt smooth skin. For men who prefer facial hair, shea butter can also work as a highly effective beard balm.11 It also helps that shea butter has anti-inflammatory properties, helping soothe cuts and nicks.12
6. Soothes Eczema And Dermatitis
Shea butter comes highly recommended for those who suffer from eczema and dermatitis. In fact, numerous products used to soothe eczema or dermatitis contain shea butter as a key ingredient. Because it’s laden with moisturizing agents including vitamins, regular use of shea butter can help reduce the dryness, itching, and scaliness associated with eczema or dermatitis.13 14 15
Benefits Of Shea Butter For Hair
7. Promotes Healthy Hair Growth
Incorporating shea butter into your regular hair care routine will leave you with soft, shiny, and thick locks thanks to its moisturizing quality.16
How to: Try mixing a little coconut oil with shea butter and apply liberally to your hair, focusing on your scalp and ends. Wrap your hair with a damp, warm towel for 15–30 minutes and wash with a mild shampoo.
8. Repairs Damaged Hair
Shea butter also works like a much-needed repair and rescue tonic for parched and damaged hair that’s been over-processed by hair color, salon treatments, and heat damage. Due to its fatty acid content, shea butter helps rejuvenate and replenish damaged hair to give you lustrous new locks.
How to: Make a quick mask by scooping a little shea butter into a small bowl, add pureed avocado, a little water, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender, peppermint etc.) to create a creamy paste. Apply all over your hair, leave on for 30 minutes to an hour, and wash thoroughly with warm water before using a shampoo.
9. Prevents Hair Loss
Shea butter can help promote hair growth and even prevent hair breakage and loss because it contains plant-derived phytonutrients.17 These nutrients protect your hair from harmful UV rays, harmful pollutants in the air, and even chlorine in swimming pools. Using shea butter masks regularly on your hair, in conjunction with other good-for-hair ingredients like coconut oil, castor oil, egg yolk, and honey will strengthen your hair and reduce breakage/loss.
More Healing Properties Of Shea Butter
Traditional medical systems of Africa have been using shea butter for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties for ages.18 It has been used traditionally to treat rheumatism, nasal inflammation, and nasal congestion. Modern science is now exploring all these areas with quite a bit of success. In fact, patents have been taken out in the United States for products that reduce symptoms of arthritis, lower cholesterol, and help treat diarrhea.19Clinical tests also confirm that shea butter may be more effective than existing nasal drops to clear nasal congestion.20
In Africa, shea butter is used for dozens of other benefits.
- It is applied to a newborn baby’s umbilical cord stump to prevent infection.
- It is used as an effective insect repellent against the troublesome Simuliam parasite.
- In combination with lime, shea butter is used as an antiperspirant too!
- The moisturizing properties of shea butter are also used to protect the paws and skin of animals, especially dogs, from the abrasive effects of sand and salt.
Shea Butter Buying Tips
- When buying shea butter, make it a point to buy raw and unrefined shea butter. The refining process is meant to remove some odor and color from raw shea butter but in the process, it also gets rid of a lot of the bioactive ingredients, making the butter less effective.
- For best results, also make sure the shea butter you buy is unflavored and unscented. In the United States, look for the seal of the American Shea Butter Institute to make sure you’re buying certified top-grade shea butter free of fillers and preservatives.
- Like all natural products, the potency of shea butter’s benefits slowly fades with time. For best results, make sure to use the butter within 18 months from the date it was extracted (should be indicated on product packaging).22
How Do I Store Shea Butter?
This wonder butter is relatively low-maintenance. It does not need to be refrigerated. However, it is important to store it in a cool place because it has a low melting point. So if you store it in a hot room or expose it to sunlight, it will melt prior to use and lose its creamy texture. It will solidify once it’s in a cool place again.
What If I Have A Nut Allergy?
Good news! A comprehensive study conducted at the University of Nebraska found that shea butter does not contain any of the proteins that usually induce allergies. This means refined shea butter and any products containing it are safe for use even if you have a tree nut allergy!