shea butter skincare benefits for dry skin

If your skin is as dry as mine, then you’ll know the wonders of shea butter for skin. Personally, I blame the dryness on all those boiling hot baths I like to take in the middle of winter (and spring, and summer, and fall…)

It doesn’t help that I sometimes neglect my body care routine. I do my face religiously every day and every night but in winter, when your body is hidden under layers of clothing, it’s easy to neglect it, ya know? In the past, I’d try every lotion and potion under the sun to no avail. They’d moisturise my skin for a couple of hours and then back it went to Sahara dry.

Then, I found it! The magic ingredient that keeps my super uber dry skin soft and smooth all day long: Shea butter. I kid you not, these days I never use a body lotion that doesn’t have a huge dollop of it. I just know it won’t work. So what makes Shea butter so amazingly good at treating dry skin? Here’s what the science says:

What Is Shea Butter?

Shea (pronounced shay) butter is a plant fat derived from the nut of the African Shea tree.  It’s made bycrushing and boiling the shea tree’s ripe nut or fruit. The end product is a yellow-colored, thick, and solid substance at room temperature. You can call it a solid oil.

Shea butter contains five essential fatty acids (oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and linolenic acid) that give it its super moisturising properties. As if that weren’t enough, shea butter is also rich in phytostersols, Vitamins A, D, and E, and allantoin, a powerful skin soothers. No wonders it’s such a godsend for dry skin!

Related: What Are The Most Common Antioxidants Used In Skincare Products?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dry, flaky skin? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” cheat sheet below to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Benefits Of Shea Butter For Skin

Shea butter is one of the most moisturising substances on the planet. But that’s not all it does. Here’s what makes it’s an absolute must for dry skin types.

1. Shea Butter Is An Excellent Moisturizer

The fatty acids in shea butter make it one of the most moisturising substances on the planet. These fatty acids create a protective barrier on the skin that slows down water loss. This helps dry skin in two ways. First off, this barrier protects skin from environmental aggressors, like harsh weather and pollutants, that may erode your skin’s natural barrier, irritating skin and drying out even more.

Plus, this barrier keeps moisture into your skin, where it’s most needed. When skin has all the moisture it needs, it’s softer to the touch. It also looks plumper, which in turns minimises the look of your fine lines and wrinkles. And it glows as if lit from within. You’ll know when your skin has all the moisture it needs. It just looks naturally supple and younger.

According to a study conducted by AAK, shea butter does all this even better than mineral oil, what dermatologists have long considered the gold standard for moisturisation (hate it all you want, it works). Now, it’s true AAK makes shea butter, so they may be a little biased. I usually wouldn’t cite a study like this but, in this case, I think they have a point. I used both lotions and body butters with mineral oil and shea butter and the latter always worked best for my dry skin. Just saying.

Another study found the moisturizing effect of a 5% shea butter cream to peak “after one hour and persist for 8 hours.” In my experience, it can last even longer. 😉

“I really love it as an ingredient in winter moisturizers because it is not only an extremely effective fatty skin barrier, but it is also a humectant, meaning it draws water to the skin from humidity in the air and effectively retains it there, maintaining skin hydration,” Dr. Arash Akhavan, M.D., Founder of the Dermatology and Laser Group in NYC.

Related: 5 Mineral Oil Myths You Need To Stop Believing Right Now

haus of gloi depravity pumpkin butter

2. Shea Butter May Have Antiaging Properties

In addition to being a wonderful moisturiser (a feat that makes skin look younger, no matter what age you are), shea butter also has its fair share of antioxidants that can further help slow down the aging process. A clinical study conducted by F. Renard as part of his doctoral thesis suggests that shea butter may also have anti-aging properties.

30 volunteers, aged 29 to 82, applied shea butter daily on their skin for 4 to 8 months. The results? Skin looked smoother and clearer, and wrinkles from photoaging “are visibly diminished in half the volunteers”. In addition, shea butter helped regenerate thinning skin. Renard thinks this is because of the unsaponifiables in shea butter, which are known to boost collagen production.

Again, this is only one study. We need more before we can say for certain shea butter can fight wrinkles. But if, like me, you need to use shea butter to treat dry skin, this would just be a bonus anyway.

3. Shea Butter Soothe Irritation

Again, we have its powerful moisturising powers to thank for this. The protective barrier it creates on your skin goes a lot way into calming down irritations and preventing them from getting worse. But, that’s not all. Shea butter also contains allantoin, a powerful soothing ingredient known for its ability to reduce redness, itching, and any kind of irritation.

What Skin Conditions Can Shea Butter Treat?

Thanks to its moisturising and soothing properties, shea butter helps treat a wide variety of skin conditions, including:

  • Bumps (due to razors)
  • Dermatitis
  • Dry skin
  • Eczema
  • Irritations
  • Itching
  • Sunburn

How To Use It

Raw VS Refined Shea Butter: Which One Should You Use?

By this point, you’re probably thinking: “Shea butter sounds awesome! But I do really need to buy a body butter from the shop? Can’t I just get a big jar of unrefined shea butter from Amazon and save a lot of dollars?” You could.

The unrefined kind of shea butter is very pure – and by far the most moisturising kind. It’s also very greasy and quite unpleasant to use. “”Shea butter is best incorporated into a moisturizer with other ingredients so it’s easier to spread since it’s usually a thick solid at room temperature,” says Michelle Wong, the brain behind Lab Muffin.

But if you’re ok with that, knock yourself out. The refined kind has been processed to make it more pleasant to use. Unfortunately, in the process, some of its goodies have been lost, making it a little less powerful.

Shea Butter Uses

Shea butter is a multi-tasker that can be used for pretty much everything:

  1. Moisturiser: The main use of shea butter, it creates a protective barrier on the skin that keeps moisture in and irritants out. You can use it all over your body, in both summer and winter, any time you feel your skin is feeling dry and rough to get it back into top shape.
  2. Lip balm: Shea butter helps treat cracked and chapped lips, bringing them back to softness and getting them ready to be kissed.
  3. Conditioner: Shea butter isn’t good just for skin. It also conditions hair, helping to keep it soft and taming frizzy hair.
  4. Hand cream: Use it every time you wash your hand to replenish lost moisture and to heal cracked, chapped hands to make them silky soft again.

Who Should Use It?

I said it before and I’ll say it again: shea butter is a godsend for dry skin. If you’re struggling to find something that keeps your skin nourished from morning till night, get yourself a jar of shea butter.

How Often Can You Use It?

As often as you’d like. Unless you’re allergic to it, shea butter can be used every day – and even multiple times a day.

Side Effects Of Shea Butter

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you may worry shea butter can clog pores, give you acne, or aggravate breakouts. While shea butter is classified as non-comedogenic, it has a thick texture rich in fatty acids that could potentially cause breakouts in some people. Personally, even if the chances of getting a breakout from shea butter were 0, I still wouldn’t recommend it to oily, acne-prone skin. It’s too rich for your skin type and may cause greasiness, if nothing else.

What Are The Best Products With Shea Butter?

If you’re the DYI kind, you can buy pure shea butter. Me? I’m not a fan of it. Shea butter rocks but it’s very greasy and grainy. I prefer to buy products with shea butter simply because they usually have better textures.

Here are my faves:

  • Drunk Elephant Siri Body Lotion ($24.00): A rich mixture of natural butters, oils, and ceramides to deeply nourish dry skin. It’s fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin too. Available at Cult Beauty, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer ($28.00): A nourishing facial moisturiser for dry, sensitive skin enriched with soothing agents to make skin soft and reduce irritations. Available at Look Fantastic, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • La Roche Posay Lipikar Eczema Soothing Relief Cream ($17.99): Enriched with 1% anti-inflammatory colloidal oatmeal and shea butter, it soothes redness, irritations, eczema, and itching. Ideal for dry and sensitive skin. Available at Boots and Ulta.
  •  The Body Shop Shea Body Butter ($21.00): A rich body butter enriched with shea and cocoa butter to keep the driest of skin types soft and moisturised from head to toe. Available at The Body Shop and Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Clinical Ultra-Rich Soothing Body Butter ($19.00): A blend of plant oils, emollients, and shea butter to soften and soothe dry and itchy skin. Available at Paula’s Choice.

The Bottom Line

Shea Butter is a staple in my skincare routine. It’s the best moisturiser I know and may even help keep wrinkles away.