Is Shea Butter Food For Your Face?

By: Abigail Libers  | 

Shea butter can be a good moisturizer, when used on the body.
Shea butter can be a good moisturizer, when used on the body.
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When the weather outside is frightful, your skin is usually anything but delightful. In fact, it may be as dry as the air outside. And no one wants to experience a parched, flaky complexion that feels tight or itchy. While you may be tempted to slather on a heavy-duty moisturizer like natural shea butter, dermatologists warn that this cream isn't the best option.

Shea butter, which is extracted from the nut of the African shea tree, is a rich, cream-colored substance that has natural soothing and moisturizing properties. "The moisturizers present in shea butter are some of the same moisturizers that the sebaceous glands produce," says Jody Levine, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

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Shea butter is full of nutrients, including vitamin A, which has many healing properties and has been known to aid in treating blemishes, wrinkles, eczema and dermatitis, as well as burns and even stretch marks. Shea butter is also packed with antioxidants like vitamin E , as well as polyphenols and phytonutrients. These ingredients make shea butter an anti-inflammatory, which is why it works so well at moisturizing and soothing all types of skin (and can be found in skin and hair products galore).

And while pure shea butter is great for hydrating most of your skin (it's commonly used in body moisturizing creams), it should not be used on the face. "It's very rich and can make some people break out," explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Instead of using the pure kind (usually labeled Class A), look for moisturizers that contain shea butter, like L'Occitane Ultra Rich Face Cream with Shea Butter, as well as several other moisturizing ingredients like glycerin. In general, it's a good idea to only use products targeted at facial skin on your face, as they are typically noncomedogenic, meaning they won't clog pores.

Originally Published: Oct 22, 2013

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Shea Butter FAQ

Is yellow or white shea butter better?
Yellow shea butter is raw while white or off-white shea butter is refined. Since pure white shea butter has been heavily refined, its vitamin content has been lost. Ultimately, while yellowish raw or unrefined shea butter has a nutty smell that some people don't like, it is superior in managing skin conditions.
Can shea butter clear acne?
The anti-inflammatory and healing properties in raw, unrefined shea butter can help treat acne for some people, but it's better if shea butter is incorporated into a face cream as pure shea butter may be too oily for some skin types. It's best to do a test on a small part of your face if you want to see how your skin will react.
What does shea butter do for your skin?
Shea butter is packed with nutrients, including vitamin A, which has many healing properties and has been known to aid in treating blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, burns, and even stretch marks. It's also packed with antioxidants like vitamin E, as well as polyphenols and phytonutrients, making shea butter anti-inflammatory.
Is shea butter or cocoa butter better for skin?
Both have excellent moisturizing properties, but there are a few differences. Shea butter contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, and may help repair damaged skin. Cocoa butter may help protect against premature damage and aging, but it's also more likely to clog pores and cause breakouts. For that reason, many people prefer shea butter.
Can shea butter make eczema worse?
Shea butter does the opposite. When applied, it helps moisturize and combat flakiness and scaliness associated with eczema.

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  • Levine, Jody, M.D. Personal correspondence.
  • Zeichner, Joshua, M.D. Personal correspondence.