shea butter benefits for skin

What is shea butter?

Shea butter is an off-white fatty substance extracted from the seeds of the fruit of the karite tree (also called as shea tree) which has scientific name Vitellaria paradoxa. The tree of shea butter is native to west aftrica.  Shea butter is one solution for many skin, hair and health issues. Recently it has gained more popularity due to its extensive use in several beauty products like cosmetics, lotions, shampoos and conditioners.

Nutrition in shea butter

Shea butter is rich in vitamin A, E, stearic, oleic acids, palmitic acid, linoleic acid and arachidic acid. A single tablespoon of shea butter contains 120 calories and other nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin F.

Shea butter benefits for skin

Pure natural shea butter is known for its moisturizing and healing powers. It is considered as a gentle home remedy for many skin conditions like dryness, eczema, stretch marks, acne and rashes. It is also great for hair and overall health.

Protects skin from drying out

Shea butter works wonder for dry skin. It is excellent moisturizer for face and body.The vitamins and fatty acids presence in shea butter makes it incredibly nourishing and moisturizing for skin. Apply shea butter all over the body and face after a bath that will help keep the skin hydrated and soft for a longer period. Dry skin and dehydrated becomes rough and scaly. Shea butter can easily penetrate into the skin without blocking the pores and is very effective for dry skin.

Protects against sun exposure

Shea butter may not protect your skin like other sunscreens, but it can protect your skin from UV exposure. It contains anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and mild sun protective qualities. Since shea butter can be used as a base coat before applying other sunscreens on the skin.

Treats acne and blemishes

Raw shea butter is rich in natural healing nutrients and is effective in curing skin rashes, scars, acne and blemishes. Shea butter prevents and helps lighten the appearance of redness and scars associated with acne. Shea butter contains retinol (vitamin A), so if you bother to use harsh chemical products to get rid of acne and blemishes, shea butter provides a natural alternative with the same retinol rich properties.

Reduces skin inflammation

Shea butter contains cinnamic acid and other natural properties, that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. These properties, especially lupeol cinnamate the compound found in shea butter makes it beneficial for the skin conditions that results from an increase in inflammatory compounds. Inflammatory conditions like dermatitis, rosacea and other skin conditions like sunburns, rashes, scrapes and cuts which results in swelling can also be treated with this butter.

Provides anti-aging properties

Shea butter is a rich source of vitamin E and is very effective in the treatment of a number of skin conditions. Vitamin E protects the skin from environmental pollution, against UV radiation and prevents the signs of premature ageing. It stimulates the production of collagen, the youthful supporting protein in the skin. The presence of both vitamin A and E in shea butter keeps the skin supple, nourished and radiant. Regular use of shea butter reduces wrinkles and prevents premature facial signs. The presence of anti-aging and anti-free radical agents have the ability to increase circulation to the skin and promote cell renewal.

Provides immediate relief to itchy and peeling skin

Shea butter is an excellent moisturizer which prevents dry skin, eczema and psoriasis. Regular application of shea butter can form a protective layer on the skin that seals in moisture and prevents dry skin. Dryness is the main cause for the skin to start peeling off or to become flaky. It results in itchy skin. Shea butter can provide an immediate relief from itchy and peeling skin by supplying the skin with the oils it needs. If the itching is due to a skin condition like psoriasis, the anti-inflammatory property of shea butter works really well to improve it.

shea butter benefits_2

Reduces stretch marks

Stretch marks are formed during pregnancy due to excess weight gain or weight loss. These stretch marks are formed on the stomach, thighs and breasts, only when the skin stretches beyond its elastic capacity. People may believe that laser treatments and Retin A are the only remedy to diminish stretch marks. But you will not believe applying raw shea butter all over your belly, hips and thighs throughout your pregnancy and post-delivery will keep the skin supple and increase its elasticity, thereby it minimizes the appearance of stretch marks.

Baby care

Shea butter is considered as a great diaper rash ointment. Shea butter contains anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties that can fight off yeast and fungal infections. Raw shea butter is an excellent natural moisturizer and chemical free. Applying raw shea butter improves blood circulation, promotes cell regeneration and collagen production. Cell regeneration and collagen production both are important to heal diaper rashes quickly.

Acts as a lip balm

Shea butter provides additional moisture and nutrients that the lip needs during summer and cold seasons. It acts as a perfect lip balm and is also proven to be effective in treating dry and chapped lips. Once applied on lips, it forms a barrier on the lips and maintains moisture in the skin.

Other health benefits

Let us discuss the other health benefits of shea butter.

Shea butter for hair health

Unrefined shea butter is rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. It can be used as a natural hair protectant as it protects our hair from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Chemical treatments, blow dryers, straighteners and other hair tools might have damaged your hair. Apply shea butter to make the hair soft and restore the lost moisture. Fatty acids and other essential nutrients improve both scalp and hair health, thus preventing hair fall, making the hair follicles stronger, reducing breakage, and moisturizing hair from the roots to the tips. The benefits of shea butter is applicable for fragile, curly and dry hair. Apply shea butter twice a week to improve the hair texture.

Sore muscle, aches and joint pains

The powerful anti-inflammatory property of shea butter can help to get relief from muscle ache and joint pains.

Shea butter has been used in medicinal ointments to treat muscle ache, joint pains, swelling and inflammation.

In 2010, Clinical results on shea butter’s anti-inflammatory properties test shows that Shea Butter contains triterpenes compounds that exhibits significant anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour activity. It helps to reduce joint inflammation while improving circulation.

If you feel muscle soreness and ache after exercise, apply shea butter generously on the affected area, this will reduce muscle fatigue and pain. Unrefined and organic shea butter is the best for treating joint health as they contains good levels of medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties in it.

Lowers cholesterol

Shea butter is consumable, so it is used to make many recipes by African people. Shea butter contains stearic acid, a type of saturated fatty acid which is known to reduce lipoproteins and plama cholesterol levels in the body, study published in the American Journal of clinical nutrition.

Treats diarrhea

Diarrhea is a sign that the body tries to get rid of something toxic in the system. No need to take medicines to get relief from this problem, instead try using shea butter as it contains anti-diarrheal properties.

Wound healing

As it contains healing properties, regular application of shea butter on wounds, cuts and abrasions are healed quickly. This butter is easily absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin and supplies essential nutrients to the skin. It helps repair cells by increasing microcirculation.

Other benefits of shea butter

In addition to the above benefits, the high content of vitamin A, heals and soothes skin allergies like poison ivy and insect bites.

It is excellent moisturizer for skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis.

How to include shea butter in regular diet

Shea butter can be used as an alternative for coconut oil, butter, olive oil in cooking. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds make shea butter as a better option than regular oil and butter. It might take few days to get used to its taste, but it holds abundant benefits. Use this butter for stir frying or simply add few drops to your morning smoothie to avail its benefits. Stir fry makes the recipe more flavourful and a richer  in taste. One more important thing of using shea butter as a food is that it is vegan friendly. It adds new flavour to grain dishes and vegetables, also allowing vegans to eat foods that require butter-y toast or pancakes.

Side effects of shea butter

Some of the common issues using butter includes allergic reactions, heart issues and obesity. Using excessive amount of this butter in cooking may result in heart problems and weight gain, due to the fat levels. Topical application may result in nausea, dizziness, itchy rashes, headache, weakness and abdominal pain. To avoid all these problems, do a patch test and then continue.

Where to buy shea butter

Many food stores and departmental stores would have shea butter but it is usually refined and not in its purest form. You can buy unrefined, organic shea butter through online purchasing or some organic stores may also stock them in their skin care or hair care sections. Before purchasing from stores, if possible apply a small amount of shea butter on the arm. It should be moisturizing and soothing.

Recipe made with shea butter

Body butter lotion


  • 1 cup raw shea butter
  • ½ cup virgin coconut oil
  • ½ cup almond oil


  • Melt shea butter and coconut oil in a double boiler.
  • Mix them well and allow to cool down for few minutes.
  • Now add almond oil and mix well.
  • Place this mixture in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Wait until the oil start to solidify a little.
  • Once the process has started, whip the oil blend using a hand mixer until you get thick, creamy consistency.
  • Once it attains, transfer this cream to an airtight container and keep aside. Allow it to set for a day.
  • Use this cream as and when required to moisture the skin.

You can also spread shea butter on sandwiches, toast or pancakes instead of dairy butter as it is considered as good vegan substitute.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.