Shea Butter Is More Than Just a Moisturizing Skin Care Ingredient—Here Are Some Other Creative Ways to Use It

Plus, learn more about the vitamins and minerals that make shea butter such a versatile ingredient.

shea butter in jar for beauty use
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Shea butter is a prized beauty ingredient with moisturizing qualities that leave your skin feeling soft and supple. While you are used to seeing shea butter in your go-to body care products, what if we told you it can be used in a variety of ways outside of your usual beauty routine?

The versatile ingredient—which also has medicinal and culinary applications—comes from the African shea tree, formally known as Vitellaria paradoxa, says Naana Boakye, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, the owner of Bergen Dermatology, and the co-founder and chief executive officer of Karité; she started her family-owned shea butter beauty brand with her sisters, Abena Slowe, the chief operating officer, and Akua Okunseinde, the chief creative officer. From body cream to lip balm, their products feature raw, unrefined shea butter and palm oil, all sustainably sourced from Ghana.

Before shea butter can be used in these types of beauty products, it must be extracted from the shea kernel (which grows from the tree). "Shea nuts are a wild-growing, natural ingredient that have been harvested and processed in West and East African countries for centuries," says Dr. Boakye. "Unrefined shea butter—the type of shea butter Karité uses—has no additional chemicals or preservatives added during the extraction process." As a result, the shea butter retains its natural properties, which include its nutty taste and smell and essential vitamins (processed versions have up to 95 percent of nutrients removed).

To learn more about the benefits of this nourishing ingredient and unique ways to use it, we asked Dr. Boakye to share her tips on incorporating shea butter into your everyday life.

Key Nutrients in Shea Butter

Shea butter is such a versatile ingredient—in skin care and beyond—because of its key compounds. It features vitamin E, A, and F, which have moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties, and catechins, which are antioxidants. Plus, it has fatty acids such as oleic, stearic, linoleic and palmitic, says Dr. Boakye. "These are all excellent for the skin's barrier and allow the shea butter to meld seamlessly with the natural oils on your skin," she says.

Unique Ways to Use Shea Butter

The benefits don't stop there. This versatile ingredient's good-for-you nutrients make it a welcome addition to other parts of your wellness routine and even recipes.

Heal Broken Skin

Shea butter has healing properties, so it can work for a variety of skin conditions, such as eczema, burns, and more. "Because shea butter helps with skin irritation, it can also be soothing on wounds and rashes because of its highly moisturizing and antioxidant properties," says Dr. Boakye.

Use as a Cooking Ingredient

It may come as a surprise, but shea butter is an excellent ingredient for cooking. If you want to try using it in recipes, you'll need to pay attention to its grade: There are several grades of shea butter, according to the American Shea Butter Institute (ASBI). Grade A is considered raw, unrefined shea butter, grade B is refined, and grade C is highly refined. You should choose grade A shea butter when cooking, since it's most rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, says Dr. Boakye.

Since shea butter doesn't have any salt (or sugar!), it's a great option if you want to add rich, nutty flavor to meals without increasing the sodium content, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As for the best ways to swap it into your recipes? While shea butter can replace other cooking oils (including olive and avocado oils) or lards (you can spread it on toast like butter!), Dr. Boakye recommends consulting with a nutritionist on the best ways to use it.

woman washing hair in the shower
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Moisturize Your Hair

Since shea butter is such a nourishing, healing ingredient, you can use it to revive dry hair, too, says Dr. Boakye. Focusing on areas of dryness (like dead ends or a flaky scalp), apply raw shea butter to your hair—or look for shea butter-infused products to boost moisture and nourish hair. Consider options like the Shea Moisture Deep Treatment Hair Mask, which helps restore and hydrate the scalp, or Cantu Shea Butter Natural Leave-In Conditioning Cream, an option that repairs damage and breakage.

Add as a Sun Protectant

If you moisturize with shea butter, you're actually taking an additional step to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, too. "Shea butter has a natural SPF of around seven," says Dr. Boakye. Shea butter, however, is not a sunscreen replacement. "Even if you do use shea butter on your skin, you still need to wear sunscreen. Shea butter is not a recognized filter for sunscreen," she says.

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