What to Know Before Using Pure Shea Butter

The ancient ingredient has been showing up everywhere.

If you haven't already noticed, shea butter is everywhere.

And while not everyone has used it in its raw, pure form, you can find the ingredient in most lotions, shampoos, conditioners, and other moisturizing beauty products. That said, although shea butter has been popping up all over the place as of late, the emollient is nothing new.

Shea butter, which is harvested from the nuts of karité trees, has been used in East and West Africa for centuries — it's only in recent decades that the Western world has gotten hip to its benefits.

"Shea butter contains a high amount of fatty acids and vitamins," says Dr. Shuting Hu, cosmetic chemist and founder of Acaderma. "It is a fantastic ingredient for the skin and hair."

So let's get into the nitty gritty of this powerful ingredient, shall we?

What Is Pure Shea Butter Most Useful for When It Comes to Skin and Hair?

Dryness, dryness, dryness. If your skin or hair is feeling or looking dull and parched, shea butter is an easy way to bring everything back to life. But Dr. Hu especially loves the skincare benefits.

"As an emollient, shea butter locks in moisture to your skin and prevents transepidermal water loss," she says. "Additionally, the oils in shea butter easily melt into the skin and work as an incredible moisturizer."

The chemist adds that it is also helpful to treat inflammation, promote cellular regeneration, soothe irritation and dryness, as well as protect against free radicals, among other benefits.

Which Hair and Skin Types Is Pure Shea Butter Most Useful For?

While shea is an amazing ingredient to use to combat dryness for skin and hair, it may be a bit heavy for those with fine, straight strands. However, people with thick, coily hair can really benefit from using shea to seal in moisture.

When it comes to skincare, nearly everyone can benefit from using shea butter, mainly in the fall and winter. But there are some who may find the ingredient especially helpful.

"People with dry skin would benefit the most from using shea butter, as it not only replenishes moisture to the skin but seals it in, keeping the skin hydrated for longer periods of time," explains Dr. Hu. "Anyone who struggles with eczema, inflammation, or cracked skin can use shea butter to soothe irritation, which tends to flare up during the fall and winter."

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What's the Difference Between Yellow and White Shea Butter?

"The main difference between yellow and white shea butter is that white shea butter is processed and yellow is not," says Dr. Hu. "Yellow shea butter is essentially raw, so does not go through any filtration to remove impurities. White shea butter is processed to remove impurities and is much smoother in texture. You may also notice a strong odor from yellow shea butter whereas white shea butter is odorless."

However, even within the processed shea butter realm there are variations. For example, unrefined shea butter will still have an off-white tint, whereas the heavily refined variety will be purely white.

"When it comes to skincare, I would recommend using unrefined or raw shea butter," Dr. Hu suggests. "The ingredient in this form has a higher vitamin content so your skin will benefit more from the raw or unrefined version. When shea butter is heavily refined, a lot of the healing properties of the ingredient are removed and will be lost in the filtration process."

Is Shea Butter Most Effective on Its Own Or When Blended With Other Ingredients?

Whether or not it's mixed with something else, shea butter is a powerful moisturizer on its own. But when it comes to how to use it, that really just depends on your preference in texture.

"On its own, shea butter has a very thick, hard-to-use texture," says Dr. Hu. "I would recommend using a moisturizer or cream that has shea butter in it so that it is easier to spread on the skin."

However, if you're someone who has been using shea butter in its purest form since the beginning of time, there's no need to switch things up.

What's the Best Way to Store Shea Butter?

Seeing as shea butter melts under heat, it's best to keep it out of hot rooms and direct sunlight. You also want to make sure to keep it in an airtight container to prevent contamination.

Shop Shea Butter Products

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Acaderma Better With Age Facial Cream


"The Acaderma Better With Age Rich Cream was formulated with shea butter to deliver an intense surge of moisture while stimulating collagen synthesis and cellular regeneration for visibly smoother, tighter skin," says Dr. Hu.

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Buttah Body Whipped Body Butter


This body butter only contains one ingredient: virgin African shea butter, which is naturally rich in vitamins A, B, and E.

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54Thrones African Butter

54 thrones

Shea butter sourced from the continent is paired with Ghanian baobab and Egyptian jojoba oil to nourish skin in nothing but moisture.

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space.

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