Ingredient Spotlight: Shea Butter

By April 28, 2017

What are the shea butter benefits for your skin? Of all the buzzy skincare ingredients out there, shea butter is likely one you’ve at least heard of. Let’s break it down.

We wouldn’t be surprised to hear you’ve used shea butter many times yourself. From facial creams to body washes to lotion, lip balms and beyond, this heaven-sent emollient pops up in ingredient lists for all sorts of products.

But do you actually know where shea butter comes from, how it works, and what it can do for your skin? Like, do you really know? If not, you’re in luck! Today we’re covering the shea butter basics and filling you in on how shea butter is made and what the benefits are. We’re also dishing on our favorite products that contain the ingredient.

What is shea butter and how is it made?

Shea butter comes from the African Shea (s’í) tree, which also goes by the names karate tree and ori tree, depending on the region. This tree produces green fruit with a tiny nut inside, and that, friends, is where you’ll find the shea butter. However, it’s not as easy as simply cracking it open and scooping out the creamy substance we’re all familiar with. The extraction process is somewhat complex, and when done manually, it can take over a month to complete!

So that you fully appreciate this butter, we want to tell you how it’s made: The first step is to remove the fruit from the nut and, from there, the nuts are boiled and set out to dry. Next, the nuts are cracked open to remove the shell from the kernel, and then the kernels go through a second drying process. Once dry, the kernels are smashed and roasted, then ground finely. Water is added to the ground kernels and it’s mixed constantly until the fatty butter separates and rises to the top. The butter is then scooped off the top and heated once again to extract only the purest shea butter.

In the end, you’re left with a yellowish, creamy solid that melts on contact with skin and makes for some intense hydration. You can buy it in whole form and use it that way, or you can purchase a product that combines shea butter with other ingredients.

Shea butter benefits as a skin care ingredient:

For thousands of years, shea butter has been used as a cosmetic ingredient. In fact, there are tales of caravans coming into town as early as the Cleopatra era (69 to 30 BC) that were loaded up with tiny jars of the stuff.

Back then, people used it the same way we do today: to nourish and hydrate parched skin and dry hair, and to further protect themselves from the earthly elements. Shea butter is rich in antioxidants and loaded up with vitamins A, E, and F. Once applied, you’ll notice instant hydration and skin that’s noticeably plumper and softer looking. It also creates a barrier over the skin to protect it and lock in moisture. And here’s a fun fact: Shea butter has a natural SPF of 6, which only furthers its popularity and versatility.

In ancient Egypt, shea butter was a coveted substance, but it wasn’t so easy to get your hands on (quite literally). And if you weren’t located near West Africa (where the shea tree thrives), then good luck finding any at all!

Today, thanks to improved technology and the ability to transport large quantities across the ocean, we’re gifted with ample amounts of shea butter. So the next time you’re slathering yourself with the buttery goodness, remember that it didn’t use to be so plentiful or affordable!

Product recommendations:

No need to line up at the Ancient Egyptian caravan! One of our favorite products is the Benton Shea Butter and Coconut Hand Cream, which combines 20% shea butter with coconut oil and other natural extracts. You’ll notice silkier hands with one use, and will love that your skin absorbs it quickly without leaving behind a greasy residue.

Another favorite is the Skinfood Intensive Shea Butter Cream Wash, which is the perfect product for anyone with skin that leans a little dry, or for anyone who simply wants a little more hydration in their shower routine. In addition to shea butter, this creamy body wash also contains ceramides and loads of natural plant extracts to further nourish and protect the skin. And while we’re talking about Skinfood, we must give a shout out to the company’s Honey & Sugar Jelly Body Scrub. Antibacterial honey and sugar come together to polish, heal and sooth the skin, but this scrub also contains shea butter to double down on hydration.

Finally, let’s talk about the Tony Moly Delight Tony Tint. You’ll notice two things once you apply this lip stain: sheer, beautiful color and major hydration. You can thank the fusion of shea butter, rose hip oil, argan oil, and jojoba oil for that!

+ We’d love to hear about your experiences with shea butter! Let’s talk in the comments below!

Shop The Story