October 18, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty

6 Incredible Benefits of Shea Butter

The skin care superhero relieves dry skin and eases irritation

Shea butter and the nuts it is made from displayed on a wooden table.

Isn’t it great when you discover something that can tackle multiple problems?


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Instead of purchasing several products, you get one with a powerhouse ingredient that can pull double- and even triple-duty. Introducing shea butter — a skin care superhero that helps with several complexion woes.

“It can be especially helpful for dry, reactive skin,” says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD.

Learn about the benefits of shea butter and decide if it’s destined to become your new favorite product.

What is shea butter?

Shea butter is a creamy fat found in nuts growing on shea trees in African countries. It’s solid at room temperature but melts on contact with skin, similar to coconut oil.

And while it’s edible and used in many African recipes, it’s primarily found in skin and hair care products in the United States.

You can safely apply shea butter to your face, lips and body. Some body scrubs and hair conditioners also contain shea butter for its moisturizing effects.

However, notes Dr. Vij, it’s not the best option for acne-prone skin. Shea butter may clog pores and lead to more breakouts. And those with seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff should note that yeast related to dandruff can grow in shea butter.

Is raw or refined shea butter better for your skin?

Raw shea butter is packed with vitamins and nutrients that are good for your skin. Refined (or processed) shea butter loses some of its essential nutrients during processing.

For example, there’s less or no cinnamic acid, an anti-inflammatory substance, in processed shea butter. Raw shea butter is usually yellow or beige, while refined shea butter is white.

Shea butter versus cocoa butter

Both shea and cocoa butter are moisturizers — emollients that keep water from evaporating from your skin. But shea butter has more fatty acids, vitamin E and, unlike cocoa butter, contains vitamin A.

Another difference is in the scent. Cocoa butter comes from the same source as chocolate — the cacao tree — so it smells chocolatey. Shea butter has a mild nutty fragrance.

The benefits of shea butter

Shea butter benefits the skin in several ways. Here’s how it boosts skin health:

1. Relieves dry skin

Typically, you can find shea butter in lotions for people with dry skin. Shea butter contains fatty acids. They lubricate the skin and create a barrier that keeps moisture in. In people with oilier skin, sebum (natural skin oil) does this job. But for those with drier skin, a moisturizer helps maintain dewiness.

2. Eases irritation

Shea butter contains anti-inflammatory substances, which ease swelling and redness in skin. People use it for any irritation, from sunburns to chapped lips to skin that’s reacting to too many acid peels or scrubs.

3. Prevents cell damage

Cosmetics companies often add antioxidants (substances that protect cells) to anti-aging skin care. Shea butter contains two antioxidants:

Vitamin A

“Vitamin A is crucial for skin health,” says Dr. Vij. “Since the 1970s, we’ve used retinoids — synthetic forms of vitamin A — to firm skin and reduce wrinkles.”


It works by increasing the skin-cell turnover rate, smoothing the skin’s surface. It also plumps skin by stimulating the production of collagen, the framework that keeps your skin from sagging.

Vitamin E

Shea butter naturally has a lot of vitamin E.

Even better? The majority of it is alpha-tocopherol (one of eight forms of vitamin E), which has the highest antioxidant activity. Vitamin E is in our sebum, so oilier skins have more of it.

But sebum production tends to decline with age. Sunlight exposure depletes it, too. Vitamin E helps skin by preventing cellular damage and boosting moisture.

4. Improves eczema

Eczema is a common skin condition that causes itchy, red rashes. It also makes you prone to skin infections. When you have eczema, part of the problem is that you don’t have enough fatty acids in your skin. Your skin barrier isn’t as effective at warding off irritants and germs.

Eczema treatment includes applying thick ointments, balms or creams to seal in moisture and defend against germs.

One study found that shea butter was better at reducing eczema symptoms than petroleum products, which doctors often recommend. This may be because shea butter contains linoleic acid, a fatty acid that’s in skin.

Research indicates that linoleic acid plays a crucial role in protecting skin and can significantly reduce eczema symptoms.

“It’s essential for people with eczema to keep their skin moist and protected,” says Dr. Vij. “Shea butter can be a good option for many folks.”

5. Provides sun protection

Shea butter has a sun protection factor (SPF) of about three or four. It’s too small to prevent sun damage or sunburn on its own.

But manufacturers combine it with other ingredients to reach levels of SPF 15 or higher. Plus, you get all the soothing, moisturizing and anti-aging benefits of shea butter.

6. Doesn’t cause allergic reactions

Shea butter is safe for people with nut allergies. Allergens are proteins. While shea butter does come from nuts, it’s made entirely of fat, so it’s allergen-free. Additionally, no one has reported a reaction to it.

However, raw shea butter does contain latex. So people with latex allergies should avoid it or make sure they only use refined shea butter.

What happens if you use shea butter every day?

Using shea butter regularly helps skin retain moisture, which makes it soft and smooth. Since it’s loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, it may also keep your skin supple.

Smoothing on shea butter every day has lots of health benefits — plus it’s a daily ritual that flat out feels good.


Learn more about our editorial process.

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