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What Is Shea Butter? Benefits, Uses, and More For Skin


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Moisturizing your skin can feel like an endless task and trying to find the proper products with the right skin-care ingredients to get the job done can feel difficult, to say the least. Whether you’re someone who doesn’t like the feeling of traditional lotions or you simply haven’t found a formula that you enjoy, allow us to present to you: shea butter.

You’ve likely come across the ingredient on the back of some of your favorite hair or body products thanks to its incredible moisturizing properties. Additionally, if you prefer natural ingredients, you’ll be pleased to learn that shea butter is made from shea nuts.

Whether you want to glisten for the summer or are trying to fight the winter flakes (relatable), shea butter is an incredible product to keep in your body-care arsenal. Ahead, dermatologists explain everything you should know about shea butter, including where it comes from, why it’s so moisturizing, and whether it’s safe to use on the face and hair.

What Is Shea Butter?

Shea butter is derived from shea nuts, but you may be wondering what in its composition makes it so moisturizing. “Shea nuts come from the shea tree, which is native to Africa,” dermatologist Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD, the cofounder of the skin-care brand Skintensive, tells PS. “It contains multiple fatty acids that are rich in triglycerides, like oleic, stearic, linoleic, and palmitic fatty acids. As a result, shea butter can be extremely beneficial for the skin and hair.”

Using shea butter for skin is also great because of its high concentration of compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, including triterpenes, tocopherol (or vitamin E), vitamin A, and more.

Shea Butter Benefits

Shea butter’s biggest benefit is its moisture content. “Shea butter’s fat content is what makes it so moisturizing,” says dermatologist Omer Ibrahim, MD, FAAD. “Topicals high in oil soak and sink into the skin’s surface much more readily than the inverse. So the tree-nut oils in shea butter effectively adhere and soak into the skin’s surface, creating a smooth barrier that seals in the water and prevents transepidermal water loss.”

Because of shea butter’s occlusive properties, it can aid in repairing the lipid barrier in the skin and even help address skin concerns like eczema and psoriasis. That’s why it’s very common to find shea butter lotion for the body.

Using Shea Butter For Skin

While shea butter can be beneficial for the rest of the skin, you may be wondering: is shea butter comedogenic? It’s a valid question, and doctors recommend that you consider your skin type before using it on your face. “Because shea butter is on the occlusive side, it may not be suitable for people with oily and acne-prone skin,” Dr. Mikailov says. “Instead of the raw product, which can be hard to apply on the skin, look for items formulated with shea butter, as they tend to be more cosmetically elegant (i.e. really spreadable and able to sink into the skin quickly) and easier to use daily.”

Dr. Mikailov’s Vitamin C + AHA Morning Ritual Cream ($35) uses shea butter in the formula designed for dry skin, and it is paired with ingredients like glycerin and coconut oil to make it much more malleable and easy to use. Other moisturizers that use the ingredient include the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream ($65) and the Beauty Pie Super Healthy Skin Deluxe Body Moisture Crème ($65).

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Can You Use Shea Butter For Hair?

Is shea butter good for hair? The answer is a big yes. It provides the same benefits as it does for the skin. However, similar to using it on the face, consider the health of your scalp before using it. “Shea butter may exacerbate dandruff in some people,” Dr. Ibrahim says. To mitigate this, like with moisturizers, you can use products that contain the ingredient but have other properties to make it safe for the scalp and more efficient, like the SheaMoisture Deep Moisturizing Twist Defining Custard ($13).

Ariel Baker is the assistant editor for PS Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.


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