Shea Butter Is the Miracle Ingredient Your Skin and Hair Need—Here's How to Use It

Shea butter is the ultimate multipurpose ingredient.

woman with long, dark hair applying lotion to her face
Photo: Antonio_Diaz/Getty Images

I once took the advice of an esthetician on Instagram and slathered my dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin with raw shea butter and slept with it on overnight. Not only did my skin feel incredibly soft the next day, I didn't break out from the thick cream, either. Since then, I've been using raw shea butter on my face whenever my skin is struggling and needs some extra TLC.

But don't just take it from me—dermatologists, estheticians, and hairstylists tout shea butter's benefits for both skin and hair. Below, we've asked the experts for their take on why to use shea butter, how to apply it, the best products with shea butter (if you don't want to use it raw), and much more.

Benefits of Shea Butter on Skin

Shea butter is an excellent emollient that hydrates and creates a barrier that locks moisture in. "It's extremely rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins, which works well to improve tone, soften and plump skin, and even slow the breakdown of collagen," says Morgan Rackley, celebrity esthetician and owner of Luminous Skin Atlanta. "Additionally, shea butter can be incredibly calming and healing, and has wonderful anti-inflammatory benefits—it has a smooth and creamy consistency that is particularly soothing for very dry and irritated skin types."

Benefits of Shea Butter on Hair

And the benefits don't stop there. "Shea butter adds moisture, shine, and anti-frizz properties to the hair, so it's quite the effective styler," says Michael Dueñas, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Veluer Creative. "It also helps control flaking on the scalp thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, and can reduce overall dryness and redness."

Can Everyone Use Shea Butter?

While shea butter is ideal for dry skin types, Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, doesn't suggest it for those with especially oily skin. She also adds that while shea butter has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, there are better ingredients for acne that don't have the increased comedogenic propensity.

As for using shea butter on hair, the thick consistency might not be ideal to style with in the daytime for those with fine strands. "Depending on your hair texture, shea butter can weigh your hair down," says Dueñas. "If that is the case, it's best to use it at night in a shower cap and rinse it off in the morning."

And of course, you might want to be careful using shea butter if you have a tree nut allergy, as this ingredient is made from nuts. There are plenty of good moisturizing nut-free alternatives if you're looking for a leave-in conditioner, for example. "Those with tree nut allergies should perform a patch test before fully using," cautions Rackley. "Although many with tree nut allergies do not experience issues, it's always better to be safe than sorry."

How to Use Shea Butter for Skin

The best way to lock in moisture is to apply shea butter-containing products after bathing, when skin is still damp. "Because shea butter is so rich, I recommend applying it at night," says Rackley. A moisturizer for dry skin with shea butter to try is Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Omega-Rich Botanical Night Cream. "If you do use it in the morning, I would avoid wearing makeup—and be sure to wash your face at the end of the day." If you're looking for an unscented shea butter hand cream, Burt's Bees Ultimate Care formula is a budget-friendly option.

When on the hunt for a great shea butter product for the skin, you want to seek out products that use unrefined or raw shea butter. "After shea butter is refined, we lose out on so many of the ingredient's wonderful benefits," says Rackley. "Unrefined/raw shea butter maintains its high vitamin and antioxidant content, which your skin will thank you for."

How to Use Shea Butter for Hair

According to Dueñas, shea butter is an ideal leave-in for inflamed scalps or damaged strands. "It is a lightweight product that won't clog your pores—if you do have inflammation, you can use shea butter as a scalp treatment or deep treatment for hair," he says. "It's also great for repairing split ends. If your ends are damaged, apply a little bit to dry hair and leave it on for the day. For a deep treatment: After slathering all over strands, put a shower cap on, apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse."

You can also use shea butter to style your curls and tame thick, coarse hair. "Shea butter works well as an anti-frizz product—a little bit goes a long way to control those pesky little hairs," says Dueñas.

When it comes to choosing shea butter products for hair, you want to choose based on what other oils are in the product. "For example, if you have fine hair, you'll want to avoid products with castor oil," says Dueñas. "However, if you have very coarse hair, having both castor and shea butter can make a big difference in hydration and control."

In short, look to see where shea butter is on the ingredient list and match it with your hair texture. If shea butter is on the top of the ingredient list, then that's best for coarse, thick hair. If shea butter is towards the middle of your ingredient list, that works the best for finer textures.

Best Shea Butter Products

01 of 06

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Sensitive

shea-butter-embryolisse lait-creme sensitive

"Embryolisse Lait Creme Sensitive is a favorite of mine for moisturizing skin of all types and ages," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "It's rich in skin-nourishing shea butter and formulated for sensitive skin (it can even be used on babies!)."

02 of 06

Shea Moisture Leave-in Conditioner With Jamaican Black Castor Oil

shea-butter-benefits-Shea Moisture Leave in Conditioner with Jamaican Black Castor Oil

"I love Shea Moisture products—the brand has a range of products from leave-ins to deep treatments," says Dueñas. "And they're not just for curls; they work with all textures. I especially love the leave-in conditioner for finer strands." Shea Moisture's Jamaican Black Castor Oil Rinse Out formula is another great conditioner to try if you have dry coily hair.

03 of 06

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration Moisturizer for Face and Body

shea-butter-benefits-First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration Moisturizer for Face and Body

"One of my favorite products for sensitive skin is First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "Formulated with soothing shea butter plus essential ceramides and colloidal oatmeal, the whipped-like cream leaves skin well-protected and hydrated."

04 of 06

Unwrapped Life The Hydrator Shampoo + Conditioner

shea-butter-benefits-Unwrapped Life The Hydrator Shampoo and Conditioner

"Another one I recommend for an eco-friendly alternative is Unwrapped Life's The Hydrator Bars," says Dueñas. "The conditioner has shea butter, which offers some serious moisture and shine."

05 of 06

Alastin Soothe + Protect Recovery Balm

shea-butter-benefits-Alastin Soothe and Protect Recovery Balm

"Alastin Soothe + Protect Recovery Balm is a great choice for soothing and enhancing healing of post-procedure skin," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "Its anti-inflammatory properties are excellent for calming dry, irritated skin."

06 of 06

Shaeri Organic Prickly Pear Seed Oil Shampoo

shea-butter-benefits-Shaeri Organic Prickly Pear Seed Oil Shampoo

While this formula may not be marketed as a 2-in-1, it has both effective shampoo and conditioner properties. "Shaeri Organic Prickly Pear Seed Oil Shampoo cleanses while shea butter works to soothe scalp and repair damaged hair," says Dr. Murphy-Rose.

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