When I looked up Shea Butter, the automatic first result was the home page for the American Institute of Shea Butter. Obviously, that tipped me off that Shea butter isn’t some fad. But why is it that Shea butter is popular enough to have an American Institute? It turns out that Shea butter has a whole host of health and beauty-related uses. So for August 16, here are the 16 best uses for Shea butter.
What Is Shea Butter?
In a lot of ways, Shea butter is similar to coconut oil. It’s derived from the seeds of the Shea (or Karite) tree and contains a lot of vitamin A, as well as vitamins E and F. The Shea tree is native to Africa, where Shea butter has been used for a while as a hair and skin treatment. It’s gradually gained popularity in the Western world since cosmetic companies started using it in their products. Now, you can pick up 100% Shea moisturizer – and it’s definitely worth it.
For starters, Shea butter is a natural sunscreen. It only comes in at about SPF 6, but if you don’t burn easily and are looking for a nice tan, it might be a great fit for the summer. It has a ton of uses – not only cosmetic but also health and wellness related! In some parts of the world, people use Shea butter in food, similar to palm oil.
It's also important to pick a good kind of Shea butter to use. While all Shea butters will do the job, some are significantly better than others. Specifically, make sure that you get an unrefined Shea butter. The American Shea Butter Institute notes that the refinery process tends to eliminate a lot of cinnamic acid – which is one of the main healing ingredients in Shea butter. Along with unrefined, look for butters that are organic, unbleached, and Grade A.
Health Benefits of Shea Butter
- Eases muscle and joint pain. There haven’t been any studies that show this, but if you ask anyone who’s used it they’ll tell you that it works. Just massage some Shea butter into the sore area. It naturally helps your muscles to relax and keeps your joints from seizing up. Shea butter is a great natural treatment option for anyone suffering from rheumatism or arthritis.
- Nasal congestion. This one is pretty weird because you actually have to apply the butter inside of your nostrils. It totally works, though. You feel congested because your nostrils are irritated, and the natural anti-inflammatory properties of Shea butter combat this to clear your sinuses. In one study, participants reported significantly decreased nasal congestion in just 90 seconds!
- Lowers cholesterol. Shea butter is naturally rich in stearic acid, which contains saturated fatty acid that reduces lipoprotein. That’s a lot of big science words, I know. Basically, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that stearic acid helps to decongest your arteries. Ingesting a small amount of Shea butter (the way you would use palm oil, as mentioned earlier) can naturally lower your cholesterol levels.
Shea Butter for Skin
- Moisturizes dry skin. This is probably the best-known use of Shea butter. Because of its high-fat content, Shea helps the body to revitalize cracked and damaged skin. It’s also a great choice because it doesn’t clog up your pores like some other moisturizers. In fact, Shea butter actually helps unclog your pores, as noted in point number 5!
- Treats acne and other blemishes. Shea butter has natural healing properties – and lucky for all of us, they spread to the realm of acne care. A fun fact for you: soaps are actually made from the soaps of fatty acids. Since Shea butter contains natural fatty acids, it has the same effect as a soap, but without the intense saponification (aka soapiness & bubbles).
- Anti-aging and wrinkle cream. Shea butter is considered to be one of the best anti-aging treatments out there. Vitamins A and E both help to keep the skin naturally supple and nourished, and Shea butter is rich in both of them! Since it’s also a natural sun protectant, it decreases the risk of free radicals that damage the skin further.
- Reduces razor bumps and irritation. This is the one that sold me on Shea butter because I have major trouble with razor burn. I know this is something I could probably decrease by exfoliating every time I shave, but that takes a lot of time and it frankly doesn’t bother me enough. Luckily, Shea butter can decrease the irritation and smooth out the skin after the fact. Or, you can opt to put Shea butter on your legs before you shave to naturally smooth the hair and skin and give you a nicer shaving experience in the first place!
- Lip care. I know that I seriously struggle with finding a lip balm that works for me. Lately, I’ve been using the original Bert’s Bees – but I think it might be time to give Shea butter a try! It absorbs super quickly, so it shouldn’t be a bother hanging out on your lips. It actually forms a natural barrier to retain moisture in the skin. Since it also contains natural nutrients that your lips need (especially in the colder months!), it just might be the perfect solution.
Shea Butter Hair Care
- Protects hair from damage. It can also repair previously damaged hair by reintroducing lost moisture. This is going to be especially useful for those of us that use hair dryers, curling irons, or straighteners multiple times a week. My advice is to start while you’re ahead – add Shea butter to your hair care regime now to avoid further damage! The Shea will also protect your hair from chlorine damage if you apply it before jumping in the pool or hot tub in these last few weeks of summer.
- Reduces hair loss. Shea butter provides many essential nutrients to your hair, which ultimately makes your hair follicles stronger. That means that you’ll have less breakage and shedding, which means that you’ll maintain thicker, healthier hair for longer. If you start using it now, your hair might actually start to grow in more thickly, too!
- Treats split ends. If you’re in desperate need of a trim but just can’t bring yourself to lose the length, try applying some Shea butter to the ends! Similar to how it reduces hair loss, those stronger follicles will revitalize the ends of your strands to help with the growing out process. Again, the vitamins A & E are key here – they decrease breakage and soothe dry hair. Basically, Shea butter functions as a natural conditioner that also rebuilds hair damage (and you’re guaranteed no parabens).
- Manages curls. If you have unruly ringlets, Shea butter just might be the answer for you. It’s naturally non-greasy, so you don’t have to worry about additional oil buildup. The emollient properties in Shea butter will soften your hair’s texture and thus soften your curls. It’s recommended that you apply twice a week to get this benefit.
- Soothes dry scalp. Since it’s a natural moisturizer, Shea butter is a great treatment for dry scalp or dandruff. Its natural anti-inflammatory properties help to calm down the scalp, but it doesn’t produce any additional oil in your hair or clog your pores.
General Shea Butter Benefits
- Healing minor wounds. Scratches, cuts, and abrasions aren’t life-threatening, but they can certainly be painful and irritating. Luckily, applying Shea butter to the wound can help speed the healing process and also decrease the discomfort associated with the injury. It’s easily absorbed by the lower layers of the skin, working to heal the injury from the inside out.
- Anti-itch cream. Since it has a high level of Vitamin A, Shea butter helps to disinfect and decrease inflammation around rashes and insect bites. It also contains antimicrobials (basically antibacterial agents) that accelerate the healing process. This also helps to decrease the chance of an insect bite developing an infection.
- For cooking! Finally, substitute Shea butter for palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, or even your run-of-the-mill butter in cooking! There will be a slightly different taste that it might take some time to get used to, but the benefits are definitely worth the adjustment. You can add a bit to a smoothie or breakfast bowl, spread some on toast, or use it for stir-frying. Just remember to always go for the unrefined option – as refined Shea butter could potentially disrupt your digestive system.
So there you have it! The benefits are many and varied and my conclusion is that everyone could probably benefit from at least one of these Shea butter uses. Are you currently a Shea butter user? Which of these benefits did you start looking for? Are there any other effects that you’ve noticed? Let us know in the comments how it works for you!