Facial skin issues got you down? Your skin care standbys may need to take a seat and make room for shea butter. Depending on what ails you, there’s a good chance shea butter could be your new skin care savior.
Shea butter is made from fat extracted from shea tree nuts and is known for its smooth consistency (so luxe!) and moisturizing superpowers. And let’s be real, that’s a strong perk when it comes to self care.
Here’s how you can use shea butter to combat pesky skin issues on your face.
To apply shea butter to your face you’ll want to melt a pea-size amount in your hands before application. It can be hard to apply makeup on top of shea butter, so you’ll want to do this at night. Shea butter mostly has a rep for being a moisturizer, but it can do so much more.
Shea butter packs a powerful moisturizing punch. Shea butter is emollient, meaning it can soak into your skin and create a moisture-sealing barrier. Shea butter properties like stearic, palmitic, and linoleic acids help strengthen this skin barrier to lock in moisture.
Studies have found linoleic acid specifically is beneficial in treating dry skin because it boosts skin hydration and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis
People with skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis often seek moisture and redness relief. Shea butter’s anti-inflammatory and emollient properties make it an excellent product to help soothe flaky, red, and irritated skin.
Shea butter absorbs very quickly, so it could help you get speedy relief from flare-ups, and it’s gentle on sensitive skin. A study of 34 children with eczema found a cream containing shea butter was just as effective as a medicated cream.
The research on shea butter for acne is mixed. A 2013 study found that shea butter and neem oil soap had antibacterial properties, which means it might help reduce acne-causing bacteria on your face.
The anti-inflammatory properties of shea butter might also help soothe a breakout.
Another study found shea butter can prevent fungus from growing, which could potentially help fungal acne. Shea butter’s fatty acids can also help remove excess oil, while providing moisture to avoid dryness.
Beware of breakouts!
If you have acne prone skin, shea butter could cause breakouts. While some shea butter brands claim the ingredient is noncomedogenic (meaning it doesn’t clog pores), there are no studies that support this. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, shea butter could clog your pores, and in turn, cause breakouts. Proceed with caution!
Shea butter might prevent scar tissue from getting worse. A 2011 study found shea butter helped prevent keloid scar tissue from growing. However, this study was done with lab cultures and not people, so more research is needed to know exactly how helpful shea butter is for scarring.
Wrinkles, fine lines, and aging
Shea butter is rich in antioxidants, which can help prevent fine lines and wrinkles brought on by those pesky free radicals. It also has an abundance of vitamins A, E, and F to boost circulation and encourage faster generation of healthy skin cells.
Shea butter may also help plump up your skin. Although more research is needed, shea butter does contain triterpenes — a chemical that slows the breakdown of your existing collagen.
Shea’s anti-inflammatory properties may help soothe redness that comes with getting too much sun. Studies have shown oils found in shea butter may help treat first-degree burns (including sunburn).
Plus, research indicates that fatty acids in shea may help lock in moisture as sunburn heals (ahhh, sweet relief!).
Refined vs. unrefined shea butter
Unrefined shea butter is extracted without any added preservatives or other ingredients. This allows it to retain all its natural benefits through the process. Unrefined shea butter is usually a shade of light beige or yellow, and has an earthy, nutty smell.
Refined shea butter is extracted using a chemical process with petroleum solvents, antioxidants, or preservatives. It’s sometimes bleached white and has no scent (or is scented with fragrance).
Because unrefined shea butter can have an unpleasant smell, some people prefer to use refined shea butter. Refined shea butter also has a smoother feeling and consistency than unrefined shea butter.
Which shea butter is better?
If you want to reap shea butter’s full benefits, many beauty fans believe unrefined shea butter is your best bet.
According to the American Shea Butter Institute, refined shea butter can lose up to 75 percent of its bioactive nutrients (the stuff that makes shea butter so beneficial) in the refinement process.
When you opt for unrefined shea butter, none of the butter’s antioxidants, oils, and moisturizing properties should be diluted.
Shea butter can be packaged in a tub (like other face creams) or in a solid block. Look for Grade A shea butter when buying online or in stores. This rating means the shea butter has passed safety and quality testing.
Untested shea butter can be rancid (something smell nasty AF?) and have other nasties like bacteria and fungus in it.
How to store shea butter
Shea butter typically lasts 1 to 2 years from the date it was manufactured. It melts when exposed to heat, but it will re-solidify back at room temperature (however, the texture will get grainy). Here are the best ways to store it:
- Store it away from direct sunlight or high heat.
- Try to keep it at room temperature in a pantry or other dry space.
- If you live in a warm climate, try keeping it in the fridge.
You can add moisturizing oils or essential oils to your shea butter to give it a little extra oomph. Rosehip oil (a carrier oil) and lavender essential oil are great options to start with.
Warm up your shea butter between your palms and add a few drops of the oil of your choice. Another method is to soften it over low heat in a double boiler. (If you don’t have a double boiler handy, place the shea butter in a heat-safe bowl on top of a sauce pan with water.)
Remember: You just want to soften the shea butter, don’t simmer or boil it!
Dry skin face mask
Moisturize dry skin with a shea butter face mask. Mix the ingredients together, apply to your face, and leave the mask on for about 10 minutes.
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 3 drops of grapeseed oil
- 1 tablespoon unrefined shea butter
Acne spot treatment
Optimize shea butter to target acne with other skin-friendly oils. Mix these ingredients together and apply to acne as a spot treatment in the evening.
Apply shea butter in a thin layer, leave on for about 10 minutes, and then wash it off rather than leaving it on overnight. (Don’t forget: There’s a chance that shea butter could clog your pores, so tread carefully when trying this one!)
- 3 drops of lavender essential oil
- 3 drops of rose essential oil (Rose EO can be very $$$. Swap for rose geranium EO for a cheaper alternative.)
- 1 tablespoon of unrefined shea butter
Fine lines treatment
Create this facial butter for a youthful boost. Apply this to your face focusing on fine lines and wrinkles, and then leave it on overnight to soak into your skin.
- 2 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
- 3 drops rose essential oil
- 1 tablespoon unrefined shea butter
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
When trying any new ingredient on your face, there is some risk of an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to shea butter are rare, even for people who are allergic to tree nuts (the nut family shea nuts are from).
Still, you’ll want to keep an eye out for any bad reactions beyond a breakout. If you have sensitive skin, you should apply shea butter to a small area of your skin and wait 48 hours to see if you have an allergic reaction.
Also, pay close attention when mixing shea butter with other ingredients like oils. Those can also cause irritation for some users.
Call a healthcare provider immediately and stop using shea butter if you experience:
- trouble breathing (call emergency services)
If your face needs a little TLC, try letting shea butter come to your rescue. Whether you’re dealing with dryness, acne, or aging, this natural ingredient is there to help!