Shea butter is fat that’s extracted from the nuts of the shea tree. It’s solid at warm temperatures and has an off-white or ivory color. Shea trees are native to West Africa, and most shea butter still comes from that region. Shea butter has been used as a cosmetic ingredient for centuries. Its high concentration of vitamins and fatty acids — combined with its easy-to-spread consistency — make it a great product for smoothing, soothing, and conditioning your skin.
1. It’s safe for all skin types
Shea butter is technically a tree nut product. But unlike most tree nut products, it’s very low in the proteins that can trigger allergies. In fact, there’s no medical literature documenting an allergy to topical shea butter. Shea butter doesn’t contain chemical irritants known to dry out skin, and it doesn’t clog pores. It’s appropriate for nearly any skin type.
2. It’s moisturizing
Shea butter is typically used for its moisturizing effects. These benefits are tied to shea’s fatty acid content, including linoleic, oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids. When you apply shea topically, these oils are rapidly absorbed into your skin. They act as a “refatting” agent, restoring lipids and rapidly creating moisture. This restores the barrier between your skin and the outside environment, holding moisture in and reducing your risk of dryness.
3. It won’t make your skin oily
Shea butter contains high levels of linoleic acid and oleic acid. These two acids balance each other out. That means shea butter is easy for your skin to fully absorb and won’t make your skin look oily after application.
4. It’s anti-inflammatory
The plant esters of shea butter have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. When applied to the skin, shea triggers cytokines and other inflammatory cells to slow their production. This may help minimize irritation caused by environmental factors, such as dry weather, as well as inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema.
5. It’s antioxidant
Shea butter has significant levels of vitamins A and E, which means it promotes strong antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are important anti-aging agents. They protect your skin cells from free radicals that can lead to premature aging and dull-looking skin.
6. It’s antibacterial
A 2012 study suggests that oral doses of shea bark extract can lead to decreased antimicrobial activity in animals.
7. It’s antifungal
Shea tree products have been established as powerful ingredients to fight skin infections caused by fungi. While shea butter may not be able to treat every kind of fungal infection, we know that it kills spores of the fungi that causes ringworm and athlete’s foot.
8. It may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks and scarring
It’s thought that shea butter stops keloid fibroblasts — scar tissue — from reproducing, while encouraging healthy cell growth to take their place. This may help your skin heal, minimizing the appearance of stretch marks and scarring.
9. It may help treat dandruff
One way to treat dandruff (atopic dermatitis) is to restore moisture to your dry and irritated scalp.
10. It may help soothe conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis
Shea’s anti-inflammatory properties help soothe skin and relieve itching. This may prove especially helpful for inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. Shea also absorbs rapidly, which could mean quick relief for flare-ups.
11. It may help soothe sunburn and other skin burns
Shea’s anti-inflammatory components may reduce redness and swelling. Its fatty acid components may also soothe the skin by retaining moisture during the healing process.
Shea butter should be stored slightly below room temperature, so that it stays solid and easy to spread.